Ashley Mudd – Building Community Leaders Through Leadership Institute of Acadiana

Ashley Mudd, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute of Acadiana, joined Discover Lafayette to discuss her mission to build leaders in our community. Her quest is to ensure that everyone, regardless of background or industry, has the opportunity and support needed to find their voice and passion as a community leader.

The Leadership Institute of Acadiana (“LIA”) is the organization that hosts the Leadership Lafayette and Lafayette Junior Leadership programs, as well as other programs to engage people who are unable to commit to a year of engagement.

Since 1987, Leadership Lafayette operated under the auspices of the former Lafayette Chamber of Commerce which is now known as One Acadiana. Ashley credited former Chamber President Rob Guidry for having the foresight to start the program after hearing of it in his travels networking with other chamber execs around the U. S. The first class, officially named “Class One,” calls themselves the “premier class.” Many prominent leaders, such as Joey Durel, former Parish President of Lafayette Parish, credit Leadership Lafayette for spurring them onto greater civic and government engagement. (Read more about his story here.)

Joey Durel, former Lafayette City-Parish President credits Leadership Lafayette for his desire to run for mayor. Once his children were transitioning out of their home, Joey had more time for civic engagement and made the leap into elected office.

According to the organization’s website, “At LIA, our goal is to provide experiential, collaborative leadership training programs and initiatives that offer local leaders access to the skills, knowledge and ongoing support they need to impact our community and influence the future of our region.’ In practice they do this and so much more; they immerse program participants in eleven sessions during their year of engagement as they learn about our community’s opportunities and challenges in education, the economy, the non-profit sector, government, incarcerated individuals, and healthcare. People forge lifelong friendships and bring about real change.

Program tuition is $2000 to participate in Leadership Lafayette, yet LIA will provide scholarships up to one-half of tuition for deserving recipients. They encourage participation from all industries, including police officers, teachers, and other fields outside of the stereotypical banker, lawyer, or business owner. Participants of all ages are welcome and encouraged; Ashley stressed that the wider the range of ages and industries, the more successful the class will be in experiencing the full benefit of Leadership Lafayette.

Past Leadership Lafayette graduates, such as Veronica Williams, Clerk of the Lafayette City and Parish Councils, assist in identifying boards and commissions that willing volunteers can join. LIA actively works to help people engage in civic endeavors and make a difference in the community.

SIMSOC (“Simulated Society”) is a standard-bearer of the Leadership Lafayette experience. SIMSOC is a simulation of real society where participants learn the issues and challenges of creating sustainable societies and communities. At times it can be humorous as people of higher socioeconomic status are placed in a simulated place of low ranking in a room with no air conditioning as they navigate methods of survival. Brent Henley of The Pyramid Group has facilitated SIMSOC since the beginning of the program and still pulls out great results as participants learn empathy and leadership skills from the exercise.

Brent Henley of the Pyramid Group leading SIMSOC during Leadership Lafayette’s program on April 9, 2021, at Wonderland Performing Arts in Lafayette.

LIA also offers programming for people who are not yet ready or able to commit to a year of engagement. Intro Lafayette is a two-day civic leadership class that offers presentations from “local business, civic and community leaders on the past, present and future potential of our region.” Participants are given an overview of the region’s history and culture and it is a good way for new residents to get immersed in what makes our community unique. Acadiana Onboard offers workshops in nonprofit governance for board members to learn more about fiscal governance, their role as a board member, and how to encourage diversity and inclusivity. Participants do not need to be a member of One Acadiana to take advantage of these programs.

Lafayette Junior Leadership has been a beloved component of the LIA and is in the process of being revamped. The program has historically been offered to juniors in high school and mirrors the Leadership Lafayette curriculum of introducing participants to all aspects of community. Dr. Jay Culotta, a local opthalmologist, started Lafayette Junior Leadership and ran it out of his office for a couple of decades with the help of his office administrator. The program eventually became connected with Leadership Lafayette and was taken under the wing of LIA.

Dr. Jay Culotta, a Lafayette opthalmologist, started Lafayette Junior Leadership and ran it out of his office for a couple of decades with the help of his office administrator. The program eventually became connected with Leadership Lafayette and was taken under the wing of LIA.

LIA is now focused on leveraging its 30 plus years to get a broader perspective on how to build leaders and move our community forward. An important component Ashley is working on is “social network mapping” of participants before and after the program. She shared it is important to build “weak ties” as a way to build opportunities for success in all areas of your life. A “weak tie” is a relationship you build that allows you to reach out to others for assistance, i.e., to an acquaintance who may not be in your close circle of friends or family but you know well enough to call when looking for a job, a babysitter, or the best pediatrician. LIA is committed to serving as a conduit to help people engage with one another to help build these alliances.

Ashley Mudd encourages people of all ages to get involved in Leadership Lafayette or other organizations in which they can follow their passion. “For so long we have segmented groups based on generations and we made assumptions that if you’re in your late 20s or mid 30’s this is the time when you get involved. Yet that’s when you’re starting your career and your family and you may not have the bandwidth to do it. I love the story of Joey Durel who spoke of reaching the peak of his engagement came after his children were leaving the home. A personal passion project of mine is reaching out to people who are reaching retirement and get them involved in our programs. Imagine the wealth of knowledge of someone who has worked for four decades at a time when they are pulling away from their professional career. Imagine what we could do if that person volunteered with LIA or sat on our board of directors, helped with fundraising or served on a local commission. The time and knowledge they have to devote are incredible.”

Ashley previously worked with the Girl Scouts of Louisiana—Pines to the Gulf and United Way of Acadiana. During our interview, she shared how much she loved her time with the Girl Scouts and how her experiences as a girl scout, harking back to her Brownie days, left indelible memories that she cherishes. Ashley Mudd still enjoys canoeing and hiking, hobbies she discovered as a young Brownie Girl Scout.

For more information on Leadership Institute of Acadiana and its programming, please visit Ashley Mudd may be contacted at