Spark Expanded

 

For the past three semesters, I have been blessed to coordinate the Spark Leadership Series at CMU.

Over the summer, Natalie, another one of the coordinators, and I collaborated with the LI Staff to revisit the the Alpha Leadership program’s curriculum and projected learning outcomes in hopes to create a more challenging and intensive but still baseline leadership experience.

We stripped Alpha of it’s fat, replaced a lot of old material with new, and called it Spark.  After one semester, it was evident how tremendously the program had evolved.

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But it wasn’t done yet.  After it’s first semester, Spark doubled in size, promising two session offerings instead of one for the Spring semester.  This meant double the facilitation staff, double the coordinator staff, a new location and a new night.

I shared the Wednesday night session with Jordyn, one of the new coordinators.  Our facilitation staff was 16 volunteers strong; all of which were trained by the coordination team and the Graduate Assistant, Vince.

I tried my best to capture what Spark is like for participants each Wednesday night in the videos below.

This semester was such an awesome learning experience for me and Spark.

My belief was vigorously tested when registration suggested we might have to cancel one of the sessions.  With Four days until the start date, we only saw 12 participant applications for our Wednesday night offering; for this program to work, we needed at least 60.

Right when I was ready to throw in the towel, registration soared, and we had a number of people show up on the spot to our Wednesday night offering; more than enough for the program!

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The audience we worked with in the Towers session was unlike any Spark or Alpha experience I have ever witnessed.  For a lot of these students, it was their first time ever participating in a Leadership Institute program. The material was new to them, which made it visibly more enjoyable and exciting for them; the energy in the towers session was so real and so positive it was impossible to ignore.

Our facilitation staff was mighty adaptable.  With the new location and the number of participants, a lot of the curricula changed as we went.  For many facilitators, this would be a daunting task; but not ours.  They handled each session with absolute poise and enthusiasm; our participants don’t even know how lucky they are.

It was a huge, wildly successful semester for Spark.  I cannot wait for the Fall so we can do it all over again!

 

Mentorship

Coming into the LAS program, I was blessed to be brought into a great line of mentors.  James Wilson, my immediate mentor, and Justin Sutherland, my grand-mentor, made my first year at a university incredibly easier.  Justin and James are both socialites, and introduced me to seemingly half of campus.  They helped me build a network of reliable and wonderful people.  Furthermore, they have given me tons of advice and tips to other aspects of life, as well.  Both Justin and James have sat me down and helped me think critically, challenged me to define my own morals, and guided me to success on countless occasions.  In addition, Aaron Sheich and Amber Harchuk are even further up the family tree. They have made terrific efforts at helping me find success in college, even though at a distance!  Aaron was pretty busy with senior year business and graduation preparation, and Amber has graduated and works our of state. They have helped me grow into the person I am today, and I am incredibly grateful to be in this family tree, self titled: The Haus of Gügenheim.

I am no longer JUST the mentee of this family, though.  The Haus of Gügenheim is prepared and incredibly excited to welcome our newest addition, Jesse, into our family.  I will be his direct mentor, and James, Justin, Aaron, and Amber will be his greats.  Combining what I learned on my own with what Justin and James taught me, I think I will be capable of passing on useful tips to Jesse!   I want to be able help Jesse find his own direction, and let him know that I’m in full support of his decisions along the way.  I am really looking forward to welcoming him into this awesome family tree as well as getting to know him!

Welcome to LAS and CMU, Jesse!

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Roots

A Reflection of PSC 105L and HST 110L, both required classes under LAS protocol.

As a LAS cohort, we took an Introduction to American Government (PSC 105L) and The American Experience (HST 110L) together.  At first, I cringed at the idea of discussing history and politics in any context, because I grew up resenting politicians and the inter workings of our government; and because, history and politics always bored me. So, I entered these classes with a bitter attitude, planning to loathe them both.

Our Political Science class covered the fundamentals of our government, including it’s structure, functions, and our basic rights as citizens.  This sounds like it could lag, however, our professor did an incredible job of sparking heated debate and enthusiastic conversation amongst our class.  Class discussion never failed to engage me and a solid majority of the class.  On some accounts, the class would irk emotions I would never have expected to emerge in a political science discussion!

The biggest thing I pulled from this class was how incredibly intricate and and well thought out the Constitution actually is. Having to spend critical time analyzing the rights enlisted in our constitution and the reasoning behind them was eye-opening.  It was so interesting to me to read about the roots of our government! Throughout studying this, I gained a new appreciation and pride in being American.

In contrast, The American Experience History class sparked very little interest in me.  I rarely felt enthusiastic in class, and had to make a painstaking effort to stay focused in class due to how intriguing  the content was not.  In correspondence with leadership in education, however, our history class out-shined our government class. Our professor made sure to incorporate lessons that detailed leadership practices by certain figures in history, and instructed us to pick a leader in american history to write a term paper about.  I chose Steve Jobs, for a multitude of reasons, including his leadership in the industry through persistent innovation and inarguable resilience.

The biggest thing I learned from History was that, our country is unlike any other, because we are a continuous work in progress.  We have yet to settle for anything, which for some can be aggravating, but from my perspective, is admirable.  We address issues, we don’t ignore them.  America continues to propel forward, because we work towards making change.  At our birth, the founding father’s implemented a plan that wasn’t concrete; it had wiggle room for the future.  This wiggle-room came in handy during times of war, any large movement, including the Civil Rights movement, and much more. It’s truly impressive, and instills a pride in me.

I can combine what I learned from both of these classes and apply it to my major, because I hope to impact history through computer engineering.  By following trends in our history and government, I can plan for the future of our society and incorporate my passion for technological developments to leave a legacy.

A song to accompany this post:

Show You Care

As John Bacon, introduced himself, including all of his accolades, comrades, and more, I felt a sudden and utter gratitude: how could a such an impressive man with this much success be standing in my classroom?  Honestly, I was more overwhelmed by his presence than his message.

Bacon described a four-pillar process to finding success in life as a leader, which included paying attention to character, concern, communication, and caring.  Each of these, for the most part, is pretty self explanatory and not profound.  To be successful, you must have strong character; this means being consistent in your actions, no matter the situation.  Bacon paraphrased John Wooden’s line “Character is who you are when no one is watching.”  Next, Bacon stressed to have concern.  He said that showing concern makes you reliable and trustworthy.  Thirdly, communication builds relationships only if both parties get to share and listen, rather than one -sided conversations; communication should contain a mutual effort.

Most importantly, Bacon Stressed the importance of showing your care for others.  He said within the first five minutes of meeting someone, you will be able to since whether they genuinely care about you or ot.  For leaders in a community, it is vital to show care for others.  Leaders are in place to serve others; to do this effectively, a leader must have compassion for his or her followers.

A friend and I had a conversation about this particular part of Bacon’s message.  My friend expressed how they sometimes struggle to gauge whether others know she genuinely cares. I related in full, as  we agreed that, for the majority of the time, we do genuinely invest time and concern in others, because we do care.  In fact, we’d hope that it would take 5 seconds to sense our interest rather than a whole 5 minutes.  However, we both wished that our care for others wasn’t misconstrued.  Sometimes, expressing interest, concern, and care can be perceived as forced, when in all reality, we mean it to be genuine.  Personally, I plan not to stress this.  I believe whatever feels natural will be perceived as genuine, because that’s as real, bare, and honest my personality can be.

I am grateful Bacon came to speak with us.  In his short presentation, he demonstrated all four of these ideas.  By the end, I could tell he cared about his work, cared about his relationships, cared about recognizing others, and cared about relaying his stories on to us.  All of his cares resonated in me, thus outshining his other three lessons.  Thanks to Bacon, I have been more aware of how more authentically convey my cares.

A song to accompany this post:

SPREAD THE WORD : : END THE WORD

Through the Leadership Institute, I had the pleasure of volunteering with the Special Olympics to help spread awareness. The “R” word, or “retard” is used far too profanely in today’s society.  By setting up in the University Center, the LI helped gather signature on countless banners of people who would pledge to eliminate this word from their daily diction.  Becky Dal Santo (CMU+LAS 2013) and I shepherded people towards our booth, explained the mission, and got their John Hancocks.  The response was overwhelming; in a single day, countless banners chuck full of student signatures were stacked in the LI.
IMG_3015This is something I have been passionate about since high school.  During my sophomore year, I started a similar campaign.  “Kill The R Word,” was an at-lunch signature collection in my high school’s cafeteria.  Over 75% of my student body signed the banner we made, and the impact was definite.  People from every friend-group would call others out for inappropriate use of this word. By my senior year, it was nearly extinct within the walls of LCN.  In fact, when I came to college, I was shocked that it was still a prevalent issue.  I’m glad I was able to lend a hand in exiling this word from Central’s campus.

Whether it’s a small group or a vast sea of people, I make it my duty to stress inclusion.  Derogatory terms used to alienate any group of people kill me; that’s why I try to kill these words.

Seth Godin’s “Your Relationship with the Future.”

Pioneer of Squidoo and New York Times best selling author, Seth Godin blogs regularly to update his followers on philosophical and leadership-esque insights.  After exploring his blog, I came across his post, titled “Your Relationship with the Future.” In college, all anyone ever talks about is the future.  What do you want to do with your life? What do you think about the future of our government? Where do you want to eventually live?  Blahhh… Being a college student with a very loose idea of what he wants to do with his life, this post halted me from scrolling any further.  I read, reread, and reread the post. Seth outlines two possible relationships with the future: one an optimist’s take to life; the other, a pessimist’s.  To Seth, your relationship with the future is a personal and important decision, but essentially irrelevant.  According to Seth, the future is both exciting and risky.   Whichever way you see the future, Seth declares it as inevitable, and to accept it!

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My current relationship with future is one of optimism.  I have so much to which I can look forward.  Starting in the fall, I will be an RA in Kulhavi Hall, be rooming with my absolute best friend, be working towards my Computer Engineering Major, guiding my mentee through his or her first semester of college, and planning my study abroad trip to Germany.  With so much good in front of me, it’s hard to think that “each day is a step closer to the end.”  I’d say my relationship with my future is perfect for me in this moment; however, it fluctuates. Throughout high school, my relationship was a little more dismal than it is now.  I was reluctant to soon be attending CMU, bored with waking up each morning under my parent’s roof, and tired of high school busy work.  Looking back, however, I am so grateful for all of those things. My relationship with the future then, although pessimistic, has made me even more grateful for my present.

I agree with Godin; both relationships with the future are irrelevant, because what will happen will happen. Furthermore, I think the most important relationship you can have with the future stems from the relationship you have with the present.  If your relationship with the present is similar to mine is now, full of gratitude, than you’re set.

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No.

Apple has made remarkable strides over the past century. Starting in the shadow of other computer companies, today’s Apple has busted through the marketshare with it’s computers, tablets, phones, and media-players.  A lot of Apple’s success stems undeniably from the corporations CEO, Steve Jobs. An icon, a genius, a leader, Jobs always strived for the best. He was brutal. He was aggressive. Reporters across the spectrum account Jobs as a “snarling brute.”  You may wonder why people continued to work for him. He fought for perfection, creativity, and above all else, innovation.

When asked “is this good enough?” he’d reply “no.

And that’s why people stayed.  Steve Jobs whipped out the word “no,” like second nature, but it’s because of his progressive vision that inspired others to continue performing.

Imagine if everyone said “yes,” all the time.  How on earth could leaders emerge? Leadership stems from “no,” for a number of reasons:

  • People, whether it be the government, administration, parents, or bullies, will tell you all about what you can’t do.  Restricting laws and rules, words of discouragement, and more are all examples of “no,” statements.  Without people shoving “no” in our face, leaders would never arise.  Leaders make change.  They take control of their destiny and enable others to reform the social norms.  Leaders turn “no’s” into “yes’s.”  In a world full of “yes,” leadership is dead.
  • Take Steve Jobs’s case: Leaders are never satisfied.  They are constantly progressing and working towards bettering themselves and their communities.  Even when a leader is finished presenting ideas, they recognize room for improvement by asking for feedback.  Leaders say “no,” because they know that they can do better.

An instance where my leadership best came through was during the spring break of my senior year.  I didn’t venture to some tropical paradise; in fact, I didn’t even leave my county.  I stayed in Macomb township all week to train for the track season.  Every morning, I woke up at five to make to practice.  Personally, I wanted to better my times.  Communally, I wanted to help my team by being the best runner I could be.  During my senior year, our team was composed chiefly of freshmen, albeit Trevor and I, who were the only seniors left standing.  Each morning of that break ran similarly.

Just go back to bed…

No.

You can run later…

No.

Just cut the warm-up short….

No.

During that week, we had two speed workouts.  My relationship with speed workouts was definitely one of love and hate.  I knew they made me stronger, physically and mentally; however, the exhaustion of it all was sometimes seemingly unbearable.  The morning of the second speed workout, I was the only one to show up to practice.  My coach, who everyone simply referred to as Hubbard or Hub, hadn’t arrived yet, and I debated leaving to run on my own time, later. No.  Instead, I began my two-mile warmup. When I got back the track, I noticed my Hubbard’s car in the parking lot to be the only new addition.

“All warmed up?” he asked.

“Sure.” I replied, pretty unenthusiastically.

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400s.  Five miles of four hundreds.  20 intervals, each lasting three minutes long.  A single sprint around the track.  Alone.  Needless to say, I was nervous.  I had done plenty of speed workouts in the past, heck I had already done one this week.  Alone, however, meant that Hub could really focus on every aspect of my intervals.  He could more accurately time me, recognize exactly where on the track my speed would fluctuate, and more.  All eyes were on me, and it was going to be one hell of a workout.  I had to dig deeper than ever before to be successful in this pursuit.

Take this interval easy…

No.

Your legs hurt…

No.

Slow down, you need energy for the next one…

No.

This one interval probably will not effect the success of our team…

No.

You really can’t dig any deeper…

No.

You can’t run any faster…

No.

To be the best I could be, to offer my best to my team, and to remain passionate about my workout, I had to fight.  I had to say “no,” again and again.

My cool down was well earned.  After returning from four miles of relaxed, massage running, Hubbard remarked the workout as a whole as one of my best ever.  I couldn’t agree more.  That single workout fueled me to find success in future races.  It taught pain is inevitable. It told me that my pain cannot be the reason my team doesn’t find success.  And while running the workout all alone in preparation for what most identify as a individualists sport, I couldn’t help but think that my teammates would be proud for me.

Leadership, for me, stems from “No.” It is taking the status quo and changing it., recognizing a cause to fight for, and never, ever settling.