Students are selected to be Bennis Scholars after a rigorous application process after their sophomore year. They are offered leadership training and participate in skill-building workshops.(Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Student Life

Bennis Scholars Carry Forward a Legacy of Leadership

Meet two impressive student leaders who are ready to put their leadership skills to the test.

September 28, 2018 Eric Lindberg

There’s no pressure on the 15 students who just became the first graduates of USC’s newest honors initiative, the USC Warren Bennis Scholars Program. They’re just expected to change the world.

Some of these new alumni might see themselves running a renewable energy program to protect the environment. Perhaps others will step onto the floor of the United Nations as human rights advocates. Or maybe they’ll create poignant films that draw attention to mistreatment of women. Whatever their future holds, they start with a strong foundation of ethical leadership skills gained as part of the USC Warren Bennis Scholars Program, which honors the late USC leadership guru Warren Bennis.

“This is not a leadership development program for students who believe they have leadership potential,” says Adlai Wertman, the program’s academic director and David C. Bohnett Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business. “This is a skill-honing program for proven leaders. Only certain people step into that void of leadership. It takes a level of self-confidence and responsibility.”

Students in any discipline can apply for the selective initiative at the end of their sophomore year. If they make it through a rigorous interview process, they receive access to intensive leadership training, top USC professors and guest speakers, and a tight-knit community of fellow student leaders. Meet two recent Bennis Scholars and learn about their big plans for the future.


USC Bennis Scholar Jamie Kwong
Jamie Kwong (Photo/Eric Lindberg)


International relations (and master’s in public diplomacy)

Leadership Roles
Peer leadership team leader at USC Office of Campus Activities, president of USC Panhellenic Council

Career Interests
Kwong is attending King’s College London on a Marshall Scholarship this fall to pursue her doctorate in war studies. “The grand vision, which I recognize is lofty, is to help bring the world toward nuclear disarmament.”

Lessons Learned
Before becoming a Bennis Scholar, she viewed leaders simply as people who take actions to address challenges. The program helped her reconsider what it means to be a strong leader: “It has helped me think more intentionally about my values, my vision and my goals for the future,” she says, “and how I can approach that in a much more thoughtful and introspective way.”


USC Bennis Scholar Eric Bergmann
Peter Bergman applied his leadership knowledge to real-life scenarios, such as when he led the Peaks and Professors group. (Photo/Eric Lindberg)


Economics and mathematics

Leadership Roles
President of Peaks and Professors, co-founder of Undergraduate Economics Association

Career Interests
Bergmann is currently in Taiwan teaching English on a Fulbright scholarship. He envisions a career that weaves social enterprise and impact investing—possibly in environmental sustainability or food systems—with his passion for Southeast Asia. “If I see something that is broken, or I think could be improved, I like to just go out and do it.”

Lessons Learned
Invaluable advice from colleagues, faculty members and speakers in the Bennis Scholars program paid off during a surge in popularity of Peaks and Professors, a student-run program that promotes connections between USC professors and students through outdoor adventures. “It has been an interesting balance of keeping our original mission while expanding to meet the demand.”