Professor William Snavely believes leadership is all about decision-making. Simply put, good leaders make mindful choices and poor leaders make mindless choices. In the classroom, he tries to instill this idea in his students, as they learn about leadership and communication.
Snavely currently serves as the director of the School of Communication and teaches a leadership in communications course, which allows him to incorporate many of his own life experiences into the example he sets for hisstudents. Al-though many professors use personal experiences to attempt to connect with students, few have actually lived what they are teaching.
During his time as a professor at Miami University in Ohio, Snavely was heavily involved in the community, serving as both a city council member and as mayor of the city.
“Some students approached me because they felt like they weren’t being treated fairly by the city council,” Snavely said. “I got up there and spoke and a number of people listened to what I had to say. It was, I guess, influential at the time and they approached me about running.”
Snavely grew up in a small town in central Illinois and studied at several universities across the Midwest before he took a position at Miami University. He taught in both the business and communication departments, ending as the associate dean. Sna- vely is no stranger to hard work and education, and his academic route did not start out easily.
“My freshman year I had four different majors,” he said. “So I was still shopping around and …I didn’t do really well because I was having way too much fun. My parents helped me to come to the realization that if I’m doing that then I could put myself through school. So that was a hard lesson to learn.”
Snavely transferred from Drake University to Illinois State University and began working part time. Eventually, he made his way into communications. While attending a communications meeting with a friend, Snavely had a stroke of good luck and ended up with a full-ride scholarship. As a high school student, the university’s debate coach offered him a spot on the team, as well as a scholarship.
“So, because I was in debate and speech, why not?” Snavely said. “I found out I loved it because it’s about human behavior and understanding people, and it’s something that you interact with every day. You cannot not communicate, right?”
During his 30 years in Ohio, he served two terms as mayor in the ‘90s and formulated his own theories about leadership, which he now passes on to students in his class. One important lesson, he said, is the difference between management and leadership. During his first term as mayor, Snavely said he was only managing the affairs of the city, not leading.
“We conducted meetings, I did all the things I was supposed to do, but at the end of that two-year period, I looked back and couldn’t really tell you much of what we accomplished,” Snavely said.
The second time around, Snavely made a point to change that. He gathered the city council, held a retreat and tried to identify the biggest problems for the community.
“Anything that came up, we judged them against our goals and what we were trying to do, and so at the end of that period, I felt like we had accomplished something,” Snavely added.
He continued on his path of leadership and community in- volvement when he came to San Diego State in 2007. He has been a member and chairperson of the academic senate and even started the study abroad program for the communications department. Everything that he teaches, he said, he tries to implement for his students.
“If I have enthusiasm and I really care about what I’m teaching, then my students tend to also be enthusiastic and to care about what they’re learning,” Snavely said. “AndI really care about my students and what they’re thinking and so when they talk to me, I listen to them. I try to apply what I know about communication to those interactions.”
But the biggest challenge in teaching and reaching his stu- dents, Snavely said, is not anything that happens in the class-room. Rather, he said, the state’s disinvestment in higher education has created larger class sizes and fewer resources for faculty. However, his passion for teaching keeps him motivated and willing to grow with his students.
“I like the vitality of my stu- dents and I like seeing the chang- es that happen with my students from the beginning of a semester to the end,” Snavely said. “The students are awesome. I love stu- dents and every year there’s an- other group, and I always expect them to be fantastic. And typi- cally they live up to my expecta- tions.”