What is the Transformational Leaders Program?

Author: Shannon Rooney


Academic support, mentorship, community building, competitive funding for academic materials and experiences, and much more—these are just a few of the resources provided by Notre Dame’s Transformational Leaders Program (TLP). The program is designed to support some of the University’s most high-achieving undergraduate students from historically marginalized backgrounds.

The program began in 2021 as a response to the growing diversity of the student body.

“As Notre Dame has diversified our student population, and we've thought about the face of Notre Dame [as it becomes] more representative of the world and the country that we live in, one of the things that we realized is that there were a number of students coming to Notre Dame for whom Notre Dame might feel like a really foreign experience,” says Dr. Maria McKenna, director of TLP and the AnBryce Scholars Initiative and professor of the practice in the Department of Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling, and Society Program.

For some students, it might be that they had never been to campus before they arrived for their first year or they are the first in their families to go to college.

Faculty and staff knew that, “it wasn’t enough to just invite people here; you have to accompany them along their journey,” says McKenna.

Accompaniment on the college journey is one of the key aspects of the Transformational Leaders Program. TLP consists of a permanent staff of eight, including educational outreach specialists who are responsible for connecting with students, mentoring them, and acting as a resource and connector to campus experiences and opportunities.

TLP also has an embedded care and wellness consultant through the Center for Student Support and Care and a consultancy relationship with the office of Campus Ministry.

Community resources are abundant for students in the program. In addition to the educational outreach specialists, TLP offers many opportunities for community-building. The program offers structured study hours with upperclassmen present to answer academic questions and a Peer Leadership Program. TLP brings academic enrichment speakers to campus, connects students with other offices around campus, and makes them aware of resources, including study abroad and research experiences.

TLP also hosts a cost-free summer pre-matriculation program called The Summer Academy @ Notre Dame. It is a six-week academic, credit bearing, and community-building program held over the summer after high school through which students can earn five academic credits.

In addition, TLP provides opportunities to apply for funding for various experiences for students who otherwise might not be able to afford them and are not covered by financial aid..

“[The] vision of this program was really to make sure that any student from a background that is particularly diverse and not typically or historically represented…has an opportunity to belong to a scholars community—to make sure that they can set and meet the goals that they're setting for themselves while they're here on campus,” says McKenna.

McKenna says the results of TLP Scholars’ involvement have proven fruitful.

Students who joined learned that they could find a personal connection with staff and other students. They found people who could act as sounding boards, people who could connect them with the career center, and study groups, and celebrate their accomplishments among other opportunities.

“We see students trying out new leadership roles on campus. We see them applying for opportunities to study abroad or to take part in service projects that they might not have otherwise known about,” says McKenna. “And we see students starting to form communities around identities like being a first-generation student or being an indigenous student or being part of the LGBTQ community—many of whom have found a place that is really welcoming and inviting.”

TLP continues to make a difference in students’ lives and Notre Dame experience in many tangible and intangible ways.

Check out the video above to learn more.