First Year Scholars

About Transformative Leadership

The Oaks Leadership Scholars program develops leaders with a clear sense of their values who engage in activism and advocacy. Our Scholars will learn to recognize their role in challenging systems of inequity, deconstructing and reconstructing systems, and ‘moving the needle’ in a positive direction for equitable change.

Our work is rooted in the theory of transformative leadership developed by Dr. Carolyn Shields which is uniquely linked to outcomes of equity, inclusion, and justice. Scholars learn the eight tenets of transformative leadership and apply them through their action-based project.

Click each link below to learn more about what we do!


Scholars read contemorary scholarship including works on transformative leadership and justice and equity work. While there is some assigned reading, Scholars have the opportunity to leverage the Oaks library and select further reading that speaks to their individual interests.

Required reading includes

  • Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge
  • The Transformative Leadership Primer by Carolyn M. Shields
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

In the past years, students have additionally chosen to read the following books:

  • Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
  • The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
  • The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
  • The Price of Freedom Denied by Brian Grim and Roger Finke
  • March (Trilogy Slipcase Set) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Cohort Workshops

Scholars meet twice monthly in sessions devoted to developing transformative leadership skills. In these sessions, our scholars learn from NC State leaders, change agents across the state, program alumni, and program faculty. Democracy NC, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and NC-ACLU, have all been guests in the past. So come for the learning, stay for the snacks and community!


Our excursions are some of the best parts of the Oaks Leadership Scholars program. Students engage with current leaders to understand the impact they can make on local, state, national, and global levels.

In December, Scholars travel to Greensboro, North Carolina and work with staff at the International Civil and Human Rights Museum. After a docent-led tour, scholars engage in a learning dialog with experts in a variety of fields. In the past we have met with local and state leaders in criminal justice reform, housing and food insecurity, and equal access to education.

In April, Scholars travel to Washington, D.C. where they network with legislative leaders and advocacy groups making the world a more equitable place. Past D.C. trips have included meetings with: Rep. John Lewis, Rep. David Price, Rep. Alma Adams, Rep. Raul Grijalva, legislative staff from the offices of Sen.
Cory Booker, Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Brian Shatz, Rep. Jeff Jackson, Rep. Wiley Nickle, governmental agencies including the Dept of the Interior, Dept. of Justice, the White House, House Committee on Energy, House Committee on Ag, and NGOs including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.


Scholars further develop personal and professional networks by meeting with program faculty mentors each month. These meetings help scholars working on achieving their program goals, dissect what they’re learning, and provide community support.

The Advance

In the Oaks, we don’t retreat…we advance! The Oaks Advance is a two-day event that includes both first-year scholars and senior scholars. During this event, the Scholars will discuss the pillars of the Oaks program: transformative leadership, allyship, advocacy, activism, intersectionality, and the deconstruction/reconstruction of systems. We are a tight-knit community, and events like these are how we stay connected and advance our leadership skill sets.