The Ripple Effect

Shannon Rossman Allen

—Seton Hall Helped Angie Chaplin '05 Transform her Life. Now She's Passing the Favor On.

When the Cedar River's banks overflowed this June, devastating Angie Chaplin's Waverly, Iowa, community with a "500-year" flood, she drew upon one of the most critical lessons of her life: how to lead others.

It was a lesson she'd learned at Seton Hall, through SetonWorldWide's online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership (MASCL) program. It's a lesson she now shares with others, as a nonprofit leadership instructor in Iowa and as a MASCL faculty member.

After the flood struck, Chaplin sprang into action with her husband, Casey, and their sons, 8-year-old Jacob and 6-year-old Jeremy — cleaning out homes and serving meals to volunteers, while hundreds of residents felt the disaster's impact.

Coping with their losses in the wake of the receding river, many residents placed blame on city officials. "Hearing community members speak out during a public meeting made me think there are lessons to be learned, even in disaster," Chaplin recalls. "There had to be a way to help the city extract those lessons."

Chaplin contacted the city administrator and offered to lead a debriefing. Once she received the go-ahead, she sought expertise from SetonWorldWide's MASCL network. Col. Rob Cerjan, M.A. '06 offered to work with Chaplin on the project, utilizing a debriefing format used in the Army.

Together, Cerjan and Chaplin facilitated a review of Waverly's emergency operations center and produced a report that focused on crisis communication. "This experience is a proud accomplishment, and the credit goes to MASCL for the connections made and lessons taught," Chaplin says. "When I started the program, I never imagined it would make such an impact in my community."

Chaplin's journey began when she enrolled in SetonWorldWide's MASCL program and was introduced to The Leadership Challenge, a book and leadership development program written by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. "They had me from page one," she laughs.

Drawn to the practice of "Model the Way," which encourages leaders to find their own voice, Chaplin made a discovery. "An ‘a-ha moment' came when I realized I was suppressing my voice," she explains.

At that time, Chaplin lacked confidence, a situation that stemmed from a personal health crisis — morbid obesity. Encouraged by her fellow Seton Hall students and teachers, she examined her life. "My physical, emotional and psychological health were deteriorating, and I realized I had allowed my weight to inhibit my ability to lead," she says.

Four months after she started Seton Hall's program, Chaplin underwent gastric-bypass surgery.

By graduation, she had shed more than 100 pounds, but the transformation was more than physical. "The surgery was a step toward a healthier life, not a solution," Chaplin says.

Once she committed to living well, Chaplin used her new, confident approach to cross the finish lines of four national marathons, two of them as a charity athlete with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training.

Chaplin also found that she could empower others to release their own leadership voices. Employed by Lutheran Services in Iowa, a nonprofit human-services organization, she helped inspire its entrepreneurial Center for Learning and Leading. There, she designs and facilitates strategies for nonprofit and academic leaders around the country that generate revenue to support LSI's mission.

Karl Soehnlein, Ph.D., program director for the online MASCL program, jokes that Chaplin is the program's "poster girl." But behind his kidding lies deep respect. "When I met Angie, I knew there was something special about her," he says. "I just sensed it — her positiveness, her excitement, her passion." So when it came time to bring in a new faculty member, he looked no further than his former student.

As a professor, Chaplin presents leadership lessons during the program's weekend orientation residency and teaches the very module that changed her life.

"I lead because I've been led to find my leadership voice," she says. "It's humbling to teach in a program that continues to teach me. I learn as much from students and fellow faculty as they hopefully learn from me."

Chaplin sings the praises of the program on a nearly daily basis, and her endorsement is genuine. "It sounds like a late-night infomercial," Chaplin says. "But it's difficult for me to even imagine my life without MASCL — it fuels a passion for learning, leading and life.

"Leaders can't do everything, but we can do something," she adds. "Whether it's running, teaching, leading or serving, we have an obligation to do what we can, where we can, when we can. It's as simple as that."

Shannon Rossman Allen is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. This article originally appeared in Seton Hall Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from Seton Hall University. Seton Hall Magazine can be contacted via e-mail: SHUwriter@shu.edu.

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