25 years of President’s Leadership Academy: Ribeau returns to BGSU for celebration


By Debbie Rogers

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If it hadn’t been for Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy at Bowling Green State University, Vontoba Terry doubts he would have ever graduated from college.

“I can’t imagine life on this campus without PLA,” said Terry, who was at BGSU on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the academy. “It really helped me get to know some students before school started, and throughout my time, I was able to learn a lot about leadership.”

Growing up in Toledo, Terry said he had great grades but lacked the motivation to get his college applications completed. His high school counselor, who was a BGSU graduate, actually drove his application to campus to get it submitted on time.

He was accepted, and also gained admittance into the 1999 President’s Leadership Academy cohort.

Terry got to spend two weeks that summer, getting to know the campus and what was expected from the academy. He embraced the experience.

He was president of the Black Student Union and his fraternity chapter, and treasurer for the gospel choir. He learned karate and joined the chess club.

“I tried probably 30 different student organizations,” Terry said. “If you said there was free pizza and a free T-shirt, I was going to come. And I had a chance to lead in some of those organizations.”

Terry graduated in 2003 with his bachelor of science in business administration, with a finance specialization.

He’s the cofounder of a beauty brand, Urban Hydration, which can be found at 14 retailers, including Walmart and Ulta.

Ribeau, who was BGSU president for 13 years starting in 1995, returned to campus for the 25th anniversary celebration.

He said he would have participated in an academy like the one he started at BGSU, if there had been such a place at Wayne State University, his alma mater. He got his bachelor’s degree there in 1971.

“I wish I would have had something like this,” Ribeau said Saturday, in between leadership symposiums in the student union that brought together PLA graduates from all over the country.

“What the program is doing now, and what we intended it to do … it’s allowing the students to form relationships, develop a sense of self-esteem and self-confidence, and use that as a platform to be successful,” Ribeau said. “I kind of had to figure that out on my own.”

His college experience led Ribeau to start the BGSU leadership academy in 1997.

“I believe that everybody has some hidden potential, if they have an opportunity to develop it,” he said. “That idea led to thinking about how we could create more opportunities for students — and not just students with the highest grade point average or the most wealth in their family.

“But all students would have a chance to realize who they could probably become.”

The first cohort of students came from Toledo, after talks with the superintendent there.

“And then we branched out from Toledo, to Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and as far as California,” Ribeau said.

Students in the President’s Leadership Academy receive a renewable scholarship that covers the cost of in-state tuition and fees, as well as a comprehensive curriculum grounded in the ideals of servant leadership.

BGSU President Rodney Rogers said that the leadership academy is highly successful and a building block for other programs.

“We all start various initiatives, but there are some initiatives that really stick, really make a difference,” he said. “Certainly, the President’s Leadership Academy is one of those.”

Leadership symposiums in the student union brought together PLA graduates from all over the country.

A symposium was held this weekend at Bowling Green State University to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy. (BGSU photo)

The program is a scholarship, but it also comes with the expectation that the students lead on campus, Rogers said.

The academy was a precursor to the new Life Design program, he said. Life Design provides students with extra support in addition to traditional advising and academic resources.

They both give students a framework and tool kit to be successful in college and life, Rogers said.

“He’s extended the concept of PLA throughout the entire campus, and that’s admirable,” Ribeau said of Rogers. “Now, it’s impacting thousands of lives. That’s the highest testimony of success.”

Former President Sidney Ribeau came back to campus this weekend for the 25th anniversary of the President’s Leadership Academy.

Ribeau said he had a fulfilling visit back to campus.

“Better than I could ever anticipate,” he said. “Seeing the former students, visiting the campus, visiting with President Rogers and seeing how the program has blossomed and developed under him … it’s a great experience.”

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