Curriculum & Student Experience

COLA strives to build a strong pipeline of effective leaders by selecting and convening a high-caliber cohort of like-minded high school students. COLA attracts the most promising young people who have the capabilities and interest in contributing to a stronger future.

The COLA 6-Day Experience

Each year, COLA hosts a six-day high-impact experience where students, topic experts, university representatives, Olympians, and other community leaders come together to develop leadership skills and discuss change in the community. Because the program is limited to 50 participants, each student has the unique opportunity to interact with the community leaders on an individual basis.

Students develop their leadership effectiveness by participating in professionally facilitated training sessions, interactive team challenges, and substantial discussions with peers and proven community leaders. At COLA, students will explore and analyze the following topics:

  • Personal leadership and individual strengths
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Ethical and value based decision-making
  • Community impact
  • Visioning and goal setting

COLA’s outcome-oriented curriculum fluidly applies the concepts of ‘True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership’ by Bill George, Peter Sims, and David Gergen over the course of six days. Students will:

  • Complete the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment (cost covered by COLA)
  • Receive professionally facilitated strengths training customized to their assessment results
  • Engage in interactive activities and peer-to-peer discussions on important topics and civic issues that help frame their understanding of leadership
  • Become more self-aware through thoughtful reflection
  • Develop actionable goals for their pursuits after the program
  • Learn from proven and highly respected Central Ohio leaders

The Alumni Experience

COLA is more than a one week experience for these students.

After the COLA Experience, the COLA Alumni Committee plans one event per month. During the meeting, students have the ability to discuss issues they are facing with their projects and hear from community leaders to develop real, actionable steps towards solving them. Learn more here.

Cathy Gongwer, a Hilliard School Teacher, summarizes what COLA means to her:

The diversity is the number one thing that makes COLA distinct, but I also think the guest speakers and connections the students make at COLA are unique. COLA is a network of amazing leaders and typically our students don’t get to experience life outside of the their community. I see COLA as a way to instill civic responsibility and ownership.

“My favorite part of COLA was getting to meet all the different people and getting in touch with so many people that are doing amazing things in their life already. I think it’s very important to have perspective in life and I’m very happy that COLA provided that for me.” – Nia Coffey, 2017 COLA Alumni.


“I have learned so much about authentic leadership and that age does not matter in leadership, nor does title.  I can and will make a difference in our school and community.”  – Nathan Minns, Dublin Jerome, 2015 COLA Alumnus



“In the past few days I’ve met with CEOs of major companies, a man who partook in the early nurturing of corporations like (and including) Apple and Microsoft, and individual who used his love of music to unite communities and raise funds for causes bigger than himself, and roughly 50 children from nearby neighborhoods who filled my heart with love.” – Ally Hammer, 2015 COLA Alumnus