Skip to main content
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Ameritas Emerging Leaders Academy


Emerging Leaders Academy

Ameritas Emerging Leaders Academy is designed to develop leadership skills for advanced undergraduate students.

Each year, a cohort of 20 is selected and commit to professional training one day a month for seven months. Participants begin the academy with an understanding of their CliftonStrengths® and how to best use them for personal growth and effective leadership. Subsequent sessions include change management, effective communication and innovation.

As a part of the innovation training, the cohort will spend the last two months of the academy working on prototype solutions for the challenges affecting the insurance industry. Project coaching will be available to help participants in developing their prototypes. Final prototypes will be presented to Ameritas senior leadership during graduation.

This program is free to students selected.

Held One Friday a Month September 2024 - May 2025
Apply by Friday, August 30

Who Should Apply?

  1. Undergraduate students of any major interested in developing leadership skills and learning more about the insurance industry
  2. Preference given to students in their third or fourth year
  3. Students able to make a commitment to fully participating and completing the program

Learning Objectives

Develop the leadership and technical skills supporting career growth in the insurance industry

Work with a Gallup-Certified CliftonStrengths coach, who can help participants understand professional strengths and use them to be better leaders

Work on a complex problem that requires an innovative solution

Develop a network of professionals and Ameritas leaders who share similar leadership goals and principles

Program Outline

Session/Activity Event (All delivered at the College of Business except for Session 5 and 6, which will be delivered at the Ameritas Campus)
Session 1 (1 day)
Friday, September 27, 2024
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | HLH 202
Positive and Strengths-Based Leadership
Dr. Tim Hodges
4 – 5 p.m. | Kickoff Reception supported by NU Foundation
Session 2 (1 day)
Friday, October 25, 2024
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | HLH 202
Change Management
Dr. Steve Olson
Session 3 (1 day)
Friday, November 15, 2024
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | HLH 215
Communicating Effectively
Dr. Kathy Castle & Dr. Aaron Duncan
Session 4 (1 day)
Friday, January 24, 2025
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | HLH 202
Insurance Industry
Professor Susan Vagts
Session 5 (1 day)
Friday, February 21, 2025
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Ameritas Campus
Innovating in Insurance Industry and Presentation of Innovation Prototypes by Ameritas Leadership
Dr. Steve Olson
Professor Susan Vagts, Dr. Sam Nelson and Dr. Samantha Fairclough
Dinner with Ameritas Leadership supported by NU Foundation (Time TBA)
Session 6 (0.5 day)
Friday, May 2, 2025
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Ameritas Campus (or HLH 202)
Innovation Prototype Presentations and Graduation
Professor Susan Vagts
Project Coaching 2 hour per team project coaching with Sue Vagts, Dr. Sam Nelson and Dr. Sam Fairclough
Gallup Strengths Coaching 2 one-hour one-on-one Gallup Strengths coaching with your assigned coach

Program Facilitators

Kathy Castle
Dr. Kathy Castle
Director of Business and Professional Communication & Associate Professor of Practice in Communication Studies, UNL

Castle earned a Master of Arts in Organizational Communication and a Ph.D. in Interpersonal and Family Communication. She joined UNL in 2000 and has drawn from her expertise in organizational, interpersonal and family communication in developing and teaching courses for undergraduate students across campus. Castle has won numerous teaching awards and The Pearson Award for Technology and Instructions from the Association for Business Communication presented in Dublin, Ireland.

aaron duncan
Dr. Aaron Duncan
Director of Speech and Debate & Associate Professor of Practice in Communication Studies, UNL

Duncan joined UNL in 2005, and his areas of expertise are rhetoric and argumentation. During his time as director of speech & debate, the Nebraska team has won over 100 college tournaments, seven Big Ten Conference Tournament Challenge championships and placed consistently in the top 10 in the nation in both speech and debate. His students have won multiple individual national championships. As a competitor in speech and debate for Nebraska Wesleyan University, Duncan won over 50 tournaments at the collegiate level and was named to the 2003 National All-American Speech Team. His writing has appeared in publications including The New Republic, Business Insider, and Quartz.

Samantha Fairclough
Dr. Samantha Fairclough
Associate Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Associate Professor of Practice in Management, UNL

Fairclough earned her Ph.D. in management from the University of Oxford in 2009. Originally from the United Kingdom, she has been teaching since then and has more than 10 years of experience as an environmental lawyer and an entrepreneur. She creates, markets and organizes classes, competitions, seminars, conferences and networking events, as well as mentors students about business ideas.

Tim Hodges
Dr. Tim Hodges
Executive Director of Clifton Strengths Institute and Assistant Professor of Practice in Management, UNL

Hodges leads the Clifton Strengths Institute is a management professor in the College of Business, and a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. He works with individuals and teams to maximize their strengths and increase performance, engagement, and well-being in their education, career, and throughout their lives. He leads research in strengths development, employee selection and employee engagement with clients in education and business. He earned a bachelor’s in agribusiness, master’s in leadership education and Ph.D. in business from Nebraska.

Sam Nelson
Dr. Sam Nelson
Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Associate Professor of Practice in Management, UNL

Nelson earned his Ph.D. in management from Nebraska in 2011. He joined the College of Business in 2012 and has directed the Center for Entrepreneurship since 2015. Nelson was integral in the design of the university's entrepreneurship curriculum and teaches actively in the program. His research interests include corporate persona, entrepreneurship education and psychological capital.

Steve Olson
Dr. Steve Olson
President, Generative Consulting & Visiting Professor of Leadership and Innovation Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, California

Olson has been a pioneering leader in executive education for more than 25 years. He has trained and coached more than 2,000 executives in the United States, Europe and Latin America. His teaching specialties include Innovation, Leadership and Ethics, and he is widely published in leading academic journals including the Harvard Business Review. He teaches innovation, leadership and ethics in MBA, Executive MBA and Executive Education programs. He also has done extensive consulting work with major corporations as well as local and international nonprofit groups.

Susan Vagts
Susan Vagts
Director of the Actuarial Science Program, Ameritas Actuarial Faculty Fellow, David P. Hayes Chair of Actuarial Science & Associate Professor of Practice in Actuarial Science, UNL

Vagts earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with minors in actuarial science and business from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She came to the College of Business in 1999 with more than 8 years of experience in the insurance industry. Vagts worked as a pricing and product development actuary primarily in life insurance, fixed and variable annuities, and disability income insurance. She now serves as director of the Actuarial Science Program. Her teaching interests include Insurance and Individual Risk Management, Theory of Interest, and Actuarial Applications in Practice.



Unlu, Emre
Paul C. Burmeister College Professor of Investments, Professor of Finance and Executive Director of the Center for Executive and Professional Development
HLH 201 A
P.O. Box 880405
Lincoln, NE 68588-0405


Miller, Laurie A
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Curriculum and Associate Professor of Practice in Economics
HLH 301 G
P.O. Box 880405
Lincoln, NE 68588-0405