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Blazing New Trails:
Nine Traits of a Trailblazer

Written by Judy Tierney

Dating back to the late 18th century, pioneers began making their way into the uncharted territories of the American West. Their paths were treacherous and unpaved. To help guide those following behind – or in case they needed to backtrack – settlers removed bark from the trees along the trails they created. This method of marking trees was known as “blazing,” and hence the term “trailblazer” was born.

Today, we use the word trailblazer to refer to a person who is the first to do something. And although the modern meaning is used more loosely, current-day trailblazers share the same types of personalities and behaviors as their predecessors. In fact, the concept of trailblazing is indicative of the kind of students who are most likely to succeed at Northcentral University: self-motivated, independent learners who are looking for a way to make their mark.

A program with no group projects, a class size of one and in which students create their own schedules naturally requires that students control their own educational outcome. We asked Dr. Jennifer Scott, PhD (NCU Core Faculty, Foundations Faculty, School of Business & Technology Management) to share the traits she believes are characteristic of all trailblazers and how they apply to NCU students.

The concept of trailblazing is indicative of the kind of students who are most likely to succeed at Northcentral University: self-motivated, independent learners who are looking for a way to make their mark.

Nine Trailblazer Traits

1. High energy
Boundless energy and self-motivation go hand-in-hand, and NCU students demonstrate the enthusiasm it takes to earn their degree to drive future successes. “Everyone who is successful somehow brings energy—a physical, emotional and spiritual energy—into their environment,” writes author and peak performance strategist Anthony Robbins in a blogpost titled “Leadership Secret Number One: Pure Energy!

2. A strong sense of urgency
Brainstorming, discussing ideas and thinking through decisions are important, but action yields results. “Trailblazers consider all of the available information and then identify a time to fish or cut bait,” says Scott. Leaders such as civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. gained prominence by instilling a sense of “the fierce urgency of now” in their followers.

3. A willingness to take risks
As the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart made great strides in the field of aviation and the advancement of women. Similarly, in a class of one, NCU students face the daily risks of navigating their own educational journey and charting their own path for the future.

4. Creativity in problem solving
In the early 1900s, Henry Ford helped pioneer assembly-line manufacturing, thus revolutionizing the automobile industry. Scott says that trailblazers usually have a vision, and they are willing to try different approaches to what might seem to be an obvious solution. Ford took his creativity even further by introducing the $5 per day minimum wage and the eight-hour workday, making it possible for factory workers to buy the cars they built and helping to establish the American middle class.

5. Respect for the rules – but with an eye toward improvement
“A trailblazer typically has an entrepreneurial mindset and can sometimes find rules to be stifling,” says Scott. While they don’t set out to intentionally break rules, if they know there’s a better solution, they’ll look for ways to change them.

6. Strategic
Scott describes trailblazers as strategic, big-picture thinkers who stay focused on the end result. Winston Churchill’s unique foresight, unwavering resolve and strategic capabilities proved instrumental in defeating Hitler and helping to rebuild Europe. By following Churchill’s example, students who remain focused on their desired educational outcome while strategically addressing challenges along the way will be better positioned for success.

7. Challenges the status quo
When he and Steve Wozniak invented the personal computer and founded Apple in 1976, Steve Jobs imagined a future in which PCs would be accessible and affordable to anyone. Until his death, Jobs continually challenged the status quo with groundbreaking developments in computer graphics for the film industry, music, cellular telephones and gaming, to name a few. NCU’s professors, who all hold doctoral degrees, give students an opportunity to work with leading experts in their fields who, like Jobs, dare to test current ways of thinking.

8. Self-confidence
Scott says that in addition to high energy and a sense of urgency, trailblazers exude a level of excitement and an ability to see the big picture. Confidence is required if you’re a true self-starter. NCU students are not afraid to embrace new experiences, set their own direction, and continually refine the course they’ve created for themselves.

9. Team player
“Trailblazers know they don’t have all the answers,” says Scott, “but as leaders, they surround themselves with a team of experts.” Even in a class of one, NCU students can tap the University’s professors and resources to help them reach their goals. Most influential and skilled athletes understand that winning is not possible without teammate support. As Mia Hamm, arguably the best female soccer player, once said, “I am a member of the team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

Lastly, NCU recently announced its nine inaugural Trailblazer scholarship winners. Two scholarships – one at the master’s and one at the doctoral level – were awarded to new students in each of NCU’s four Schools: Business and Technology Management; Education; Psychology; and Marriage and Family Sciences, as well as one scholarship for NCU alumni in either a master’s or doctoral program at any one of NCU’s four schools.

The winners of the NCU Trailblazer Scholarships are:

School of Business and Technology Management:

  • Kevin Murphy of Schertz, TX; Master of Business Administration
  • Teresa Lapcheske of Warner Robins, GA; Doctor of Business Administration

School of Education:

  • Sarah Kelley of Marion, IA; Master of Education
  • Tammy Cagle of Lamar, MO; Doctor of Education

School of Marriage and Family Sciences:

  • Michelle Weiler of Palm City, FL; Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Tawana Helmich of Huntsville, AL; Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage & Family Therapy

School of Psychology:

  • Melissa Hart of Middleton, OH; Master of Arts in Psychology
  • Justin McWilson of Santa Clarita, CA; Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

NCU Alumnus:

  • Kathryn Alston of Worcester, MA; Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

“Northcentral University is uniquely designed for the trailblazer. We recognize that earning a graduate degree is a two-way street. Students need to apply themselves and the University needs to provide them with a premier-quality learning environment and support,” says NCU President George Burnett. “The nine scholars selected will gain an exceptional academic opportunity to pursue their dreams of a graduate degree to further their careers and become a leader in their field of study.”