The Leaders of Tomorrow

In the Winter of 2013, I had submitted my application for the Leadership Advancement Scholarship at CMU.  Two weeks later I was one of 80 other students invited to compete for a spot in the 2013 cohort.  I came to campus on a gray winter day, took a tour of campus for the first time, and then was sent through a series of simulations and interviews with the other competitors.  Fortunately for me, I was selected to come to campus on this scholarship.

I remember competition day so vividly. I remember walking into Powers Hall for the first time, noticing the distinct smell that the old building fostered, and being overwhelmed by the number of people crammed into the lobby.  I remember bidding my parents good bye for the day, them wishing me luck, and then heading up the stairs towards the ballroom.  I remember hearing Dan’s speech for the first time.

“Raise your hands if you’ve been told that you’re the leaders of tomorrow; that’s bull shit. You’re the leaders of today.”

I remember the simulations: helium stick, gutter ball, and a survival activity, all of which required us all to show how we work and communicate in groups.

I remember the group interview. I remember thinking I was talking too much, and that the other two competitors probably thought my voice was annoying. I remember thinking Megan was intimidatingly beautiful, which is a funny thought now that we both got the scholarship.

I remember it all.

So when I was asked my freshmen year to help serve as a member of the committee to organize this day, I felt incredibly honored.  My first year on this Lead Team, I had the opportunity to facilitate the small-group activities to the competitors. I was also trusted with the duty of serving on the application review board, which meant analyzing over 200 applications and giving them a final grade with nine other staff and students.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 3.40.32 PM.JPG
Dan Gaken, LI Director, delivering the introductory keynote and program overview.

After my freshmen year, I was brought onto the chair role of Competition Day, meaning I still serve on the application review board, but now work with two other chair people to organize the entire day. This means placing and training volunteer facilitators, working with departments on campus to ensure we have rooms and catering, and involving the freshmen class in a way that allows them to appropriately network with the potential new scholars.

Competition Day is truly like Christmas in the LI.  This past January was my second year in the chair position. I got to work with two of the most brilliant minds, Evie and Bellal, to host an incredible day.

Reviewing applications is empowering enough; seeing what these students do and how they impact their communities is so impressive.  But once the 80 are picked for competition, the energy they bring into the LI can be felt.  All 80 students are deserving of the award, really.  And they prove that by demonstrating exceptional communication skills. They are aware and just, and try their best to bring their best selves to the plate. Each time, it makes me relive my competition experience all over again.

It’s an honor to serve the LI in this way; I hope that the work I do helps bring in the best next handful of students the nation has to offer.  I hope that with each application review and each facilitator placed that our selections only make the program better and better.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 3.33.25 PM
Myself, Evie, and Bellal, the 2016 Competition Day Chairs

Tie it tighter.

Part of the LAS cohort of 2013
Credit: Dan Gaken 2013

Connections is a conference, hosted by Central Michigan’s Leadership Institute, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City.  The conference revolves around enhancing interactions between members inside and outside of groups.  It was also a weekend to network with students involved in numerous different organizations on campus.  Different workshops hit key points on how to do this; for example, there were sessions on utilizing body language to convey you messages in an impacting way, setting goals to accelerate your dreams, and asking life’s tougher questions as a way to change the monotonous script of every day life.  These sessions wall aimed to to better group dynamics by strengthening personal interactions.

Jordan and David
Credit: Dan Gaken 2013

The theme this year was: “capture the moment | focusing on the future.”  As a LAS cohort going in to connections together, we stuck pretty true to the theme.  In our institute meetings, we talked about how we appreciated how things within our cohort were going now, and we expressed desires to strengthen our ties down the road.  The session that I thought would be most useful for this goal was called “Yummy Curiosity.”  The workshop revolved around a book called “SoulPancake” by Rainn Wilson. The book advocates that stronger bonds start with stronger questions.  The book is actually full of questions, some may deem interesting, others may deem unusual; however you view them, the questions make you think.

“What’s one thing you learned that blew your mind?”

“How do you determine truth?”

“Where do you find calm in a chaotic world?”

In this session, we were each given a slip with a different question from the book. We went around the room asking others the question on the slip in front of us.  After we both answered, we traded slips and moved around the room, asking new questions.

These questions expose people a little more than usually comfortable; an extent of vulnerability is required to answer these questions.   Which is perfect for members of group who want to build stronger bonds.  Revealing that inner honest self is difficult for some, and these questions aid in that pursuit.  You can know someone, and you can know someone.  These questions help you get passing knowing people and into knowing people.

[That’s what I love about German language:  They have a word for “knowing” people’s names (wissen) and a separate word for “knowing” people (kennen). ]

David in session
Credit: Dan Gaken 2013

Connections made it evident that our cohort values each other, and that we wish to tighten our ties.  In class the following monday, we split up into groups in order to collaboratively plan ways to meet our goals as a group.  Through action planning, we wish to help our cohort find balance, build deeper and more meaningful connections, and continue to make a positive impact on central’s campus out ides of our cohort.  Our cohort seems dedicated to capture the moment we are in,  and furthermore, determined to continue focusing on the future.

David and Courtney
Credit: Dan Gaken 2013

A song to accompany this post:

Define it: “Leadership.”


Each passing day here at Central is a blessing, enhanced by involvement with my Leader Advancement Scholar Cohort.  The benefits we experience by collaborating with each other, working with the LI administrative staff, and taking classes together have been boundless.  To add to the list of benefits, I feel lucky and honored to have been able to meet with Central Michigan’s President.

President Ross came to our LDR 100 class, giving us his own definition

of leadership.  He illustrated his family life to us, and how he had to work incredibly hard to make it to where he is today.  President Ross took strides in life that the majority of his family did not; because of this, he landed administrative roles at college campuses across the country.  He owes his accomplishments to his value for education.  He stressed that his handwork in school propelled him to success.

After he shared with us his own leadership story, President Ross gave us the floor.  He asked us questions on why we chose Central Michigan University, what we plan to major in, where we are from, and how we define leadership.  A common response to “Why CMU?” was “LAS.”  This was powerful, knowing that the majority of us are here for the same reason.  Knowing that we have that connecting-factor felt good.  Hearing people in my class honestly share their definition of leadership was even more powerful.  People shed light on their personalities and desires with each individual answer, creating a vulnerability that I really appreciated.  Each answer was different, as there is no definite answer for “what is leadership,” but a common theme was “bettering yourself as well as the lives around you.”

Knowing that there is no concrete definition of leadership is empowering.  It allows a creative freedom for each leader in my cohort, including myself. I rose my hand and answered: “Leadership is always moving forward”  (You can read more about why I believe that here).  President Ross listened to my explanation, and simply replied with a quote:

 “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

                 – Will Rodgers

I took this quote as an agreement with my definition, and yet, it hit me; not only is important to define leadership in accordance with my beliefs, but also, to keep redefining leadership as life progresses.  I plan to take the lessons from meeting with President Ross, and continuously adapt and understand different definitions of leadership.

A song to accompany this post: