Aside from professional coaching, Dr. Una has delved into coaching and counseling adolescents through an online project. She developed her interest and expertise in working with adolescents over many years, and much of her drive to work with this age group comes from personal experience. “Some of what I teach I learned as a pediatrician, but my motivation begins with my own story,” she explains. “When I was a teenager, I started learning about successful habits and investing in yourself. I went to medical school in Nigeria, which uses the European system. So you go straight from high school to six years of medical school.
I turned 17 in medical school!” She laughs, “which is something that would surprise many American practitioners. As an adult, I understand the value of using your youth wisely. If you can work hard when you’re young, you can play when you’re old. That consciousness is what drives me to push young people to invest their youth and not squander it.”
This passion led Dr. Una to develop the Virtual Leadership Academy, a project she’s “wanted to undertake for years.” The Academy is a four-week virtual course that, in Dr. Una’s words, is intended to “jumpstart teens’ curiosity about their future.”
“This summer was the launch of the program,” Dr. Una says. “The thought was that teens are going to be free for the summer months, and some of them are just going to sit on their iPads and phones the entire time. Students lose reading levels during the summer and are set back. I wanted to use this time to jumpstart some habits that will help them be successful as adults.”
She continues, “I knew if I made it a ‘class,’ teenagers would resist it. So I made a series of short videos, 10-15 minutes, where I talk about goal-setting, planning, and grit. The students make five-year goals, 12-month goals, learn how to do a daily to-do list, how to make a vision board… They learn how your habits can make and break you.” Dr. Una’s eye toward character goals are in line with some of the most up-to-date research and practices in education. In particular, the idea of “grit” stands out, which MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth defines as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
By engaging with current thinking in education, Dr. Una is able to tailor online assignments to her students’ needs. In her “goals” video, students are asked to explore questions of purpose and motivation by crafting lists of their own goals. Small as the time commitment may be for kids, the Virtual Leadership Academy has set some participants on a new path. Dr. Una reports that parents will call her with testimonials. She describes a phone call from one mother who exclaimed: “Oh my god, my kid is reading! When they earn money, they’re saving it instead of blowing it! They cut their screen time down by hours! What happened? I don’t know what you did, but I have a brand new kid.”
The mother mentioned above is from the U.K. Though Dr. Una expresses some well-founded doubts about children’s dependence on the internet, she has put it to great use in both marketing and proliferating the Virtual Leadership Academy. “On my personal Facebook page I hosted a live stream talking about the Academy, so that’s how I got the word out,” she says. “The students are a mix of my patient community and a global online community.”
For Dr. Una, teaching goal-setting and successful habits are integral to her work in cultivating healthy kids. “The Virtual Leadership Academy idea was born out of what I do every day at work,” she says. “Say I’ve done your checkup and your body is healthy. Well, what about your mind? What about the whole child?” She continues, “I have kids who are ‘healthy,’ but struggle in school, have no idea what they want to be when they grow up, have low self-esteem. If I can assess your physical health, but I can’t help with your social-emotional health, I haven’t fully helped you.”