Alumni Spotlight: Natalie Winland (COLA ’22)

Alumni Spotlight: Natalie Winland (COLA ’22)
By Laddan Shoar, COLA Program Manager, and Natalie Winland (COLA ’22)

Natalie Winland is a 2022 Central Ohio Leadership Academy (COLA) alumna, who participated in the cohort as a rising high school junior representing Bexley High School (GY ‘24). Leadership Columbus has chosen to highlight Natalie for this edition of our Alumni Spotlight because of the example she has set through developing her COLA Impact Statement, from which she has created an impact in the community through her leadership. Natalie started a STEM outreach program called Seen and Heard – Advocating for our Youth, which empowers young leaders across the State of Ohio to unleash their full potential through interactive STEM programming. 

COLA is a 6-day leadership intensive that brings rising high school juniors and seniors together from all over Central Ohio as Leaders of Today, for an impactful experience of community-building, leadership development, and a launch point for how each participant plans to impact their schools and communities.  

LC caught up with Natalie, almost a year out from her COLA participation, to learn more about her and how she has brought COLA to life beyond her program week experience.  

LC: Looking back on your COLA experience, what are the two biggest takeaways? 

NW: My two biggest takeaways from participating in the COLA program were that no goal is too big as long as you work hard to achieve it. I also took away that it is important as a leader to be able to accept criticism, and to encourage collaboration. I would never have reached any of my goals without asking for critiques and advice from fellow leaders in the community.

LC: What skills or resources from your COLA experience last summer do you utilize today to support you personally or professionally? 

NW: Networking concepts were a huge learning point for me in this program. These could range from how to hold a meaningful conversation to how to phrase a professional email, but each skill has definitely followed me in both my professional and personal encounters. Additionally, participating at COLA made me feel more empowered to reach out to professionals. Sometimes doubt would creep in and I would think that I wouldn’t get a response because I am “just” a high school student, but now having the opportunity to support COLA as a program graduate, I truly see the growth in confidence this program provided me.

LC: Tell us about your current role, and what you’re most excited about in it. 

NW: I am currently a rising senior at Bexley High School which is a really surreal feeling. To think that I was a sophomore when I applied to participate at COLA, looking at the impact I have been able to make over time is a really rewarding feeling. I am extremely excited to experience my senior year with friends, and to begin the college application process. I am very fortunate and excited to have the opportunity to explore my interests in medicine and engineering this summer, as well as throughout my senior year, to give me an idea of what my future could look like. 

LC: Natalie, tell us about your community involvement at this time. 

NW: I started an initiative that implements STEM programming in minority and low income middle schools. I have organized lesson planning, food donations, transportation accommodations, grant applications with Leaders of Today*, and lead the program independently. I would say that I am most excited to see the undeniable exponential growth of my initiative as I continue into next school year, and even expand into new school districts. COLA has inspired me to provide an additional leadership aspect to my initiative and provide lessons on leadership to high school students, thus creating an all district impact.

*Leaders of Today is the nonprofit organization that Jordan Reeves (COLA ‘18 and Easton Community Foundation COLA P.O.W.E.R. Up! Award Recipient in 2022) created from his impact statement through his own COLA experience.  Leaders of Today supports young leaders with microgrants for their community impact endeavors. Check out LC’s interview with Reeves here.

LC: What else would you like the LC and COLA to know about you? 

NW: I am attending the NFHS National Student Leadership Summit this July in Indianapolis! I am also attending the Summer Exploration in Engineering program at the University of Michigan this July. I am a finalist for a Global Scholars Scholarship with the Columbus Council of World Affairs for my work in furthering my STEM initiative that I developed at COLA.  I also received the title of Miss Heart of Ohio’s Teen, and will be using my platform with the Miss America Organization to expand my initiative surrounding opportunities in STEM. I am also competing at the Miss Ohio state competition!

LC: If any alumni want to contact you, where can they find you?

NW: Email:, Instagram: @seenandheard_afy and @missheartofohioteen