The Colgate Scene
The art of leadership
|By Vicki L. Wilson|
Ian Maron-Kolitch '07 discusses proposals with his colleagues at an SGA meeting.
[Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
It was one of the last warm, sunny weekends that September would offer, only a few weeks into the semester. Yet sophomore Vanessa Persico was inside, in Wynn Hall on a Friday evening, attending a program called "Balance: Taking Care of Yourself."
She wasn't alone. Nearly 90 students had signed up for the two days of lectures and workshops dubbed SLAM (Student Leaders Artists Motivators). Persico and three other sophomores, working closely with the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement, organized the conference, which hosted speakers on leadership theory, the nuts and bolts of leadership, and leadership "cross training" using hip hop, poetry, and step as learning tools. Events like the "Balance" lecture taught students about making time for themselves, an important complement to lives filled with leadership responsibilities.
"The fact that the conference was so multifaceted, so interdisciplinary, was really what gave it its strength," Persico said. "I was really glad that people were able to get a taste of something that they otherwise wouldn't have. It's all about broadening perspectives."
Many at Colgate, and among the broader higher education community, would agree -- because the concept of leadership itself has broadened over the years.
Today, people must learn how to work with others who have different life experiences, to appreciate the meaning behind those differences and how they affect the way people work with one another.
Leadership, therefore, is not as hierarchical as it once was, so while one's mind may turn immediately to positional leadership such as a presidency, "It's more than that," said Corey Landstrom, assistant dean for student affairs and administrative advisor. Leadership is an essential part of membership as well, he said, "and if members of a community or organization are not practicing their leadership skills, you can have major issues."
That means that everyone in daily life is expected, in some way, to lead. Whether students become presidents, pastors, parents, or partners, developing strong leadership skills will help them be successful in their lives after college.
"The values for leadership in the 21st century are essentially Colgate values," said President Rebecca S. Chopp, "so focusing on leadership is very natural for us and for our students, but we still have to cultivate it."
That cultivation occurs campuswide. Career services, the chaplain's office, athletics, outdoor education, admission, student life, and academics all address components of leadership every day.
And that philosophy falls right in line with Thomas Friedman's call for U.S. colleges to focus their missions on helping students compete in a global society. At a recent national meeting called the "The Campus of the Future," the author of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century said students must be synthesizers, explainers, adapters, and collaborators -- all skills for leadership in the 21st century.
Leadership, it seems, has become much more than just guiding the way.
Co-organizer Vanessa Persico '09 (left) watches an interactive exercise during a session of the 2006 SLAM (Student Leaders Artists Motivators) leadership conference.
The liberal arts in leadership
The university's residential education method for arming students with what they need to be successful in the 21st century uses time spent outside the classroom to teach communication, conflict resolution, time management, networking, responsibility, and decision making.
"It's a combination of providing students with lots of opportunities for leadership and excellent teaching and coaching on the skills of leadership," said Chopp.
The university finds itself at the forefront of leadership training in higher education. Specifically, Landstrom points to Colgate's Leadership Institute. At the beginning of each academic year, students in a variety of roles, from residential life staff and Link orientation leaders to activities board and student government members, as well as campus office assistants and interns, gather for three days of leadership training.
The institute follows the Social Change Model of Leadership Development outlined by Alexander and Helen Astin of the Higher Education Research Institute and the principles of Public Achievement, a civic engagement initiative focused on the concepts of citizenship, democracy, and public work out of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Institute activities challenge students to move beyond the notion that they are accomplished leaders and accept that leadership development is an ongoing process of self-reflection and experience. Each day of training highlights different themes: day one could focus on the self; day two, the group; and day three, the community. The students break into teams that tackle team development, values, and problem solving.
But why is this so different?
"Schools are typically training their RAs and other leaders separately, along parallel lines that don't intersect," Landstrom said. "Two years ago, we stopped that. We said, they need to know one another because somewhere along the line, they will need each other." The shift helps implicitly teach networking skills that students will use as campus leaders and throughout the rest of their lives.
The model is catching on. Tim Mansfield, assistant dean for student affairs and director of Greek-letter operations, has recently added the Leadership Institute to his responsibilities, and said he has collected great feedback, inside and outside of Colgate, about the program.
"We travel to national conferences and talk about what we're doing," Mansfield said. "We know we're doing something right when other campuses actually want to come here and spend 48 hours meeting and understanding our culture."
Denny Roberts, vice president of student affairs at the University of Miami at Ohio, is one higher education administrator who is paying attention. He calls the new approach to training "interesting and innovative . . . I loved it, and have suggested it to our folks here," he said.
Women's hockey co-captain Tara French '07 focuses at practice. She said that each team member has an opportunity to lead in her own way. "You may have specifically designated captains, but everyone brings something different to the table, and everyone has an important role."
Responsibility, with guidance
That type of significant responsibility is why helping students make good decisions in their leadership roles is so important, according to Landstrom. "We're trying to do things that collectively begin to place the ownership on students," he said.
Catherine Regan, director of the CLSI, said that rather than planning activities for the student body, the center instead concentrates on helping students to create and govern their own social and educational activities and governance such as the Student Government Association and the Colgate Activities Board.
As well, the culture at Colgate among administrators is to be accessible to students, providing mentorship and direct interaction -- while still empowering students to do things on their own.
"It's people from the assistant director of residential life who's accessible to me at any time, to professors, all the way up to President Chopp who has office hours simply to ask about student concerns," said Maron-Kolitch. "That's something special about this place, that people care."
Persico, who is taking the LOFT II course, recognizes how much she has learned about leadership, and hopes to incorporate it into next year's SLAM conference.
"Colgate's really attacking this from all angles," said Persico. "Bob Tyburski [vice president and senior philanthropic advisor] once referred to the university as `a laboratory of life,' and I think that's an amazing philosophy: this is where the organizational experimentation takes place for us, all our trial and error."
Another course, GATE 101, is an extension of the LOFT concept that gives first-year students that opportunity for trial and error. Run by Regan and student volunteers on the campus Student Leadership Team, GATE 101 is an introduction to the essence of leadership at Colgate, where students network with student leaders and offices around campus.
"We discuss things like the fact that leadership is not a popularity contest. It's about respect," Regan said. "We ask students, `would you rather be liked or respected in a position?' At first, a lot of them would answer that they know it's better to be respected, but they would rather be liked because it's easier to deal with."
By the end of GATE 101, students can have a changed perspective. After being introduced to a multitude of campus organizations including the SGA and the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE) and working on a semester-long community service project that they have to administer themselves, they write a reflection piece about the course and what they've learned.
"Our hope is that GATE 101 gives them a jumpstart," Regan said.
Interfraternity Council president Jake Seip '07 (left) of Phi Delta Theta has worked to ensure the IFC better represents the interests of fraternities on campus.
Opportunities to lead
"It is very important for us to teach leadership skills -- but finally, students have to practice those skills in many different ways," said Chopp. What Colgate does well, she added, is provide a supportive environment to create leadership opportunities.
When senior and Phi Delta Theta member Jake Seip became president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), he set out to put what he learned at the Leadership Institute and the Greek Leadership Conference he attended this year into real-life practice.
Seip said he saw changes happening within the Greek-letter system, and felt that the IFC wasn't strong enough to address them.
"I thought we could put together an organization that better represented the interests of the fraternities on campus," Seip said. "So I set out to try to rebuild it."
One of the large changes Seip made in the IFC was to move from a title-based organizational style to one that was more committee based.
"We identified needs and goals, and we're putting people into groups based on what they're most interested in addressing," he said. "It's less title-based and more about what people are passionate about."
Ask any leader when individuals tend to work at their best, and they will tell you it's when they have passion, whether for their fraternities or an athletic team.
Senior Tara French, a co-captain of the women's hockey team, participates in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and attended the NCAA Leadership Conference this year as Colgate's student-athlete representative. She points to peers on her hockey team as being influential leaders in her life -- and not necessarily because of the positions they held, but instead because of their passion for the game.
"I've looked up to quite a few people on my team," French said. "They put in 100 percent and the leadership by example was incredible. And they weren't just captains. Everyone brings something different to the table, and everyone has an important role."
Now, as hockey co-captain, she tries to set a good example. How?
"By knowing that you can't be afraid to fail," she said. "You have to be willing to put yourself out there."
David Roach, director of athletics, said that every student-athlete at one point or another is asked to lead. And a good leader, whether it be a coach, a captain, or a team member, can make an immense amount of difference.
"A good leader gets people to do things that maybe they didn't believe they could do," Roach said. "By having a good leader, people attain higher goals and reach their own individual potential."
Resident Adviser Barry Nyaundi '09 (right) chats with some of his residents on the first floor of Curtis Hall.
Leaders of the future
"Brendan's opening talk hit upon a number of the topics we hope to address at Colgate," Landstrom said. "Have big dreams. Really try to push things forward. Have a network. And have hope -- be positive."
Sophomore Barry Nyaundi heard Tuohey's message loud and clear. As an RA, he says he is careful to try to do all these things. And there is one other leadership responsibility that he places above all others: respect.
"Right now, I have the respect of my residents and my peers. I am accountable to myself and to them," Nyaundi said. "I'm not going to let them down, and I'm not going to let myself down. When it comes to doing the job, I'll do the best I can because I know who's supporting me."
Nyaundi is not sure yet what his future holds; it could be medicine, or economics, or politics. He admires U.S. Senator Barack Obama as a leader, pointing to Obama's integrity and confidence to speak his mind as two specific things he appreciates. But whether Nyaundi will aspire to a position like Obama's is up in the air.
"Some time back I thought of being the president of Kenya," Nyaundi said. "It started out as a joke -- somebody told me that it was something I should aim for. Right now, I don't know about politics, because there's the good and the bad to it -- the corrupt side and the potential to do so much."
Whatever Nyaundi decides to do, however he plans to lead, his Colgate experience has taught him that he needs a support network to achieve it.
"Leadership is all about building relationships. You need to inspire people and have them share your vision of where you're leading them to. We need people to walk with, because I know I can't do it by myself."
Top of page
Table of contents
|Next: Communication, discipline... >>|