Q&A: Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program with Julie Griffin of the Center for Creative Leadership

Senior Director of the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program

Golden LEAF has awarded scholarships for rural students to attend their four-year NC college or university of choice for 20 years. Nine years ago, the Foundation revamped the scholarship program and added an optional leadership program. Students awarded Golden LEAF Scholarships can earn up to $12,000 with the Golden LEAF Scholarship and can apply to attend the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program (GLSLP), which can earn students another $8,830 over four years of participation. Center for Creative Leadership faculty member Julie Griffin also serves as the Senior Director of the GLSLP. She answered questions about the goals and purpose of the program.

What is the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program?

The GLSLP is a leadership education program for qualifying NC college students funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation and administered by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which is ranked amongst the top ten worldwide for leadership education and training. If accepted into the program, scholars will join other scholars from colleges and universities across NC to build leadership skills through interactive, dynamic workshops facilitated by experts in the leadership field. Sessions involve a combination of experiential learning activities, interactive lectures, reflection, critical thinking and practical application, all based on CCL’s highly recognized leadership philosophy.

Who is eligible to apply?

There is a pool of 215 Golden LEAF academic scholarship recipients from which we can accept 120 into the program each year. A Golden LEAF academic scholarship is required to apply for admission to the program.

What are the different elements of the program?

The program begins with an opening conference in January which establishes a foundation for the focus for each cohort year, provides eight months of personal coaching, has a paid summer internship component, and has a closing conference in September celebrating scholars’ successes throughout the program year. It culminates with a service event benefiting rural NC.

How does the program change with each year of participation?

The first year focuses on Leading Self, the second on Leading With Others, the third on Changing Your Community and the fourth year of the program focuses on Entering the World of Work as scholars prepare to graduate. This is a progressive model building each year upon the leadership lessons of the previous year.

How does the program connect Golden LEAF Scholars to rural North Carolina communities?

The required internship component of the program allows scholars to gain real-world experience in the scholar’s field, within the home county or another rural county and helping to identify viable options for returning there to live and work. Each summer assignment includes engagement with the scholar’s rural community in a variety of ways: such as interviewing community leaders, writing blogs, telling the stories of the rural community and creating community action projects to contribute to the economic vitality and sustainability of these communities.

What are some of the successes?


2018 Rising Star Award winner Braxton Nelson, from Caldwell County, was asked to join the Caldwell Historical Society Board as a result of his outstanding internship performance.

Also a 2018 Rising Star Award winner, Deja Gainey created a matrix for her internship site organization to track the progress of their Comprehensive Regional Economic Development Strategy at the Albemarle Commission in Hertford, NC. This matrix and work with the InnovatEC Program will be utilized as the basis for the Regional EDA Innovation Grant, which will have a long-term impact on the economic vitality of the northeast.

Justin Jeffress, a 2016 Campbell University graduate from Johnston County, works as a teacher and athletic coach in his hometown. Justin has been a coach with the GLSLP since 2017.

Chase Conner, a 2017 NC State graduate, was the creator of the Main Street Market in Martin County, a community event designed to promote rural and small businesses. It was so successful, that two other counties have picked it up and the Market event continues to help communities each year. Chase joined the GLSLP coaching team this year and works in his hometown at Riverside High School.

Bailey Allen, a 2016 GLSLP graduate, is currently in his third year of medical school at UNC School of Medicine in Asheville and will complete his residency at MAHEC’S Asheville Family Medicine. He plans to open a family practice in his home county of Columbus after completing his residency.


  • 43% of scholars who completed summer internships last year were offered permanent full or part-time employment as a result of their performance.
  • 100% of senior scholars graduated in 4.5 years or less.
How many students on average participate?

There are approximately 300 scholars in the program each year and 120 new scholars are accepted at the beginning of each program year.

Why would you encourage Golden LEAF Scholars to participate?

The internship alone puts scholars head and shoulders above peers when seeking permanent employment, because they will graduate with essential leadership skills, experience in a field, and a network of support from their home community, the Golden LEAF Foundation and the Center for Creative Leadership. About 40% of scholars in the program are offered permanent full-time or part-time employment as a result of their performance summer internships. In addition, scholars will be learning leadership skills that will allow them to excel at home, school and work.

How have alumni reconnected to the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program?

We have six former scholars that have been hired as coaches for the GLSLP. We also invite scholar graduates back to speak formally about their program experience and how it has affected their lives moving forward. Many former scholars also volunteer in some way to help support the program. Our evaluation team follows scholars six years post program to help us continue to identify the effectiveness of our long-term program goals.

What is something I didn’t ask that you would like people to know about GLSLP?

A strong 94% of scholars participating in this program report feeling that they are making a positive difference in rural NC. They are more likely to see themselves as leaders, report social support, have greater career clarity, and perceive more opportunities to work in rural North Carolina.

About Julie Griffin, Senior Director of the GLSLP

Julie has been with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) since 1999, became Senior Project Director of the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program (GLSLP) in 2012, and a faculty member in 2016, fulfilling both roles concurrently. Immediately prior to joining the Center, she was an account Manager for a private consulting firm providing long-term leadership coaching. As a former trainer for IBM, Belk/Leggett and the NC Head Start Program, she brings a wealth of experience with her and a passion for training and working with all populations.

As Senior Director of the GLSLP, a grant-based program entering its ninth year, Julie manages a team of four specialists and 55 professional youth leadership coaches. As a faculty member in the Societal Advancement Group, she works with college students, young adults and adults facilitating CCL’s core leadership content. Julie is an experienced facilitator and curriculum designer, and has worked with Girl Scouts, Grimsley High School students, Surry County Schools, the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation, A&T FBLA students, the Rotary Leadership Program and Greensboro Fellows.

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