Gerald Fortson: The Making of a Leader

Gerald Fortson is about halfway through the Leadership Studies doctoral program at Xavier, but he’s already imagining the opportunities the degree will create for him.

“I have watched a lot of leaders through the years, and at times have seen deficiencies," he says. "It’s a tough job in the best of cultures, but I believe my organizational experience, partnered with the leadership skill set I’ve been developing while pursuing the doctorate, has prepared me to make important contributions as a leader.”

Fortson ought to know. With his degrees in geology and community planning, he’s worked in both city and county government for bosses with different leadership styles. He is currently a senior economic development analyst for the Cincinnati Department of Community and Economic Development, where he is responsible for analyzing the health of local neighborhoods and their business districts to determine if they qualify for small business lending and tax abatement programs.

After 10 years with the city, Fortson decided to pursue a doctorate in regional planning, but a friend of his at Xavier told him about the new Leadership Studies program, and he was intrigued. He called the program director, Gail Latta, PhD, who invited him in for an interview.

 I am an amateur student of philosophy and leadership, and I thought it would be a good capstone educational pursuit that could launch me into a different phase of my career.

“I liked its philosophy of leadership and that it’s research-based,” he says. “I was intrigued because it’s so comprehensive, and she is well-respected and it’s an in-person program. I like to be able to create connections with colleagues and professors and hear anecdotes.”

The program, which awards a Doctor of Education (EdD), prepares graduates to understand the complexities of effective leadership and change while grounding students in ethical, character-based dimensions of leadership identity and responsibility.

It was just what Fortson was looking for.

“I am an amateur student of philosophy and leadership and I thought it would be a good capstone educational pursuit that could launch me into a different phase of my career,” he says. “I would like that to be in teaching or administration or economic development.”

The program is structured for working professionals with classes scheduled in the evenings and on weekends, which helps people like Fortson, who has two sons at home. He also likes that the curriculum addresses different areas such as non-profit leadership, higher education administration and mentoring. “I really love the theories we’ve studied.”

He expects to finish the coursework in the fall and complete his dissertation by 2019. The entire program requires 60 credit hours, including the dissertation. His will focus on an aspect of incubators for small business start-ups.

So far, the experience has been good, he says.

“What I really like about Xavier is that there seems to be much more commitment to the individual student,” he says. “For instance my advisor will suggest what to take and I’ll give her my form and she’ll take it from there. That’s personal service.”


Feature Image: Gerald Fortson at a public construction project ribbon-cutting in Cincinnati’s East Price Hill.