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.

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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.

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Myself, Evie, and Bellal, the 2016 Competition Day Chairs

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!

 

A Wild Welcome

I was at college.

wasn’t home. 

 

I had set up shop in my room, ate dinner with my roommate, and kissed my parents goodbye in a matter of hours; I felt painfully out of place as Gary and Luanne welcomed us to our new home. Sitting in the LI room, it hit me. There’s no turning back. I was excited. I was tired. I was ready. I was overwhelmed.  All of a sudden, and inexplicably, a sense of pride set in. In this moment, I experienced the extremes of “mixed-emotions.”

That night, we walked to the S.A.C to see the comedians. I clung to my friend, Eliza, the entire walk there. Eliza and I are on a college group together called the College Volunteer Facilitator Corps. We work to promote student leadership through camps and workshops yearlong. Eliza and I talked about how excited we were, how nervous we were, and tried to meet new people along our hike across campus; we even tried convincing people that we were related..

Noting can compare to how thrilling it was to stand in the gymnasium where the comedians performed. I had heard that the Safari program was large, but as I stood in the sea of people that flooded the gymnasium, I could feel an aura of importance. There were participants from wall-to-wall. There were over one hundred volunteer staff members. The numbers were crazy. I was bewildered. I cannot sufficiently stress in words the empowerment I felt, solely due to me standing in a room whipping with excitement and nerves. There were easily a hundred other people in that room experiencing the same sensation I had been experiencing, and knowing that is what really got me.

After the comedians performed, we broke off into our safari groups. I was a weasel. Yup. A weasel. We met briefly outside to meet each other and then headed right home.

I walked back to Barnes hall with a girl I had met in my Weasel group. We chatted about where we were from and what we were studying. We discovered we shared a friend, and then separated to our different Halls. The streetlights and moon illuminated the campus the entire way back. It was almost a magical feeling, campus at night. There was a light bustle, but an overall mystic quietness remained; the kind of quietness that warms your heart.

The week progressed at a rapid rate, and the weasel’s melded together almost as rapidly. I became rather close with two of the guys in my group. We came from similar places of Michigan, and knew a handful of the same people. Our group handled most of the challenges thrown our way with a certain weasel-finesse. We rarely were stumped, because we took challenges head on and with pride. Particularly, the trust fall activity had pretty high attention all week. People were worried and nervous, but not a single person in the weasel group even stuttered when it was our turn to catch each other.

Hearing the term “servant leadership” brings my principal to mind. Dave Jackson preached servant leadership in our high school. He set his example be being personable, reaching out to students in order to help them find success, and made an effort to personally aid and commend each student in a building of 2,000. Furthermore, he always volunteered to pick up after the Horses in our homecoming parade. So to me, leadership is service; which is exactly why I enjoyed the service projects employed by Safari. Turning leadership into service, whether it is cleaning up trash on a part of campus, or stuffing boxes for the military, is an effective way to help the greater good. I was part of a team whose duty was to clean the disc-golf course. Not only did it feel good to be helping out around campus, but it was also a time to just casually talk with people from all different groups we worked to better our new community, we built better connections between each other.

One speaker I truly gained knowledge from was Ed Gerety. He was in the breakout sessions, and actually spoke in Powers Hall, which gave me a sense of familiarity and comfort. Ed Gerety spoke on the importance of visualization and gratitude. These are two concepts that I believe in and love learning new tactics about. He suggested that we make dream-boards, which essentially are posters, that map out every big goal and dream you’ve ever had on them through photographs and texts. He also taught us how to emphasize the importance of our goals through our wording. Instead of saying, “I want to be a successful Computer Engineer,” it is more powerful to say something along the lines of “I will be an experienced computer engineer with background knowledge from internships across the country and the globe, and finally work for Apple Inc. as a lead Software and Computer developer by the time I’m thirty.” By being detailed, I am enabled to think critically about what it is exactly that I want. And by knowing the specifics, I am compelled to take the proper steps to make it to mygoals.

Every night of Safari, I came back to Barnes Hall. In Barnes, I am surrounded by some of the state’s best leaders, who also share in my experience as a Leadership Advancement Scholar. Honestly, my favorite part of safari was getting to know my LAS cohort by talking to them all each night. I feel comfortable and safe around this group of people, and in fact, I can’t imagine my life without most of them, already!

Safari came to an end, but the feeling I felt that first day still burns: I’m still overwhelmed by this truly welcoming and friendly campus.  I still feel ready for new obstacles.  I’m still easily excited by classes, campus, friends, and everything else.  Finally, I still feel that sense of pride… but now I know where that sensation set in: it was the moment I realized I am now a Chippewa.

I’m at college.

I’m at Central.

I’m home.

A song to accompany my feelings while writing this post:

Believe and Be Grateful

Powers Hall

The air was crisp when we boarded the school buses Saturday morning.  Nostalgia consumed my thoughts and feelings: fall, yellow school buses, field trips, being overly tired- it felt too familiar.  Everyone was exhausted at the hour we climbed onto those buses, but I could still feel the excitement.  Being a freshman, my expectations for Eagle Village were vague.  I heard about the high ropes course, but nothing specific, or even a mention about the other elements of the weekend.  So, I sat in an uncomfortable state of eager unknowingness the entire ride.

When we arrived, we were quickly orientated with the staff and the village.  We were even more rapidly broken off into groups with our mentors, and started “initiatives.”  Initiatives are group activities that test your ability to communicate as a body.  These activities, or challenges, really, could be anything.  As I walked through the woods at Eagle Village, I passed multiple large wooden contraptions, some of them resembling similarities with medieval torture devices, and wondered, “Whelp… what are we going to do with this?”  Giant wooden logs, posted at strange angles and scraping the top of the woods, large teetering platforms, and plenty of little posts poking through the ground at different heights, all made these woods feel like an old-school playground. I was a kid again, and this was recess. Our facilitators, Jolly John and Handy Hannah, front-loaded each element with a unique creativity that sometimes had our group questioning what our over all objective actually was. Our group worked together to watch dolphins, make it through the Bermuda Triangle of Death, and cure cancer, all in one evening (We were particularly confused by the Bermuda Triangle of Death).   Each activity tested our abilities to communicate as a group.  From the moment you step onto an element to the moment you step off, and everything in between, it is important to communicate every detail with your group.  This first seemed monotonous, like really, why do I need to tell James that I’m stepping on the log… He can see me? But after utilizing the suggested tactics, such as asking for group-permission before starting and then every other step of the way, I noticed a more engaged group dynamic.  This helped us take on challenges with more confidence and group involvement.  I see this being applied to group work outside of eagle village and being highly affective.  Take a group project, for example.  It is important to ask permission from the group before starting a certain portion.  One thing our group was natural at was encouraging.  I have been identified as a leader who encourages the heart, so I felt comfortable in a support position, but I learned all sorts of new ways to express support and encouragement from my group members.  I see encouragement as vital in every day life, whether it’s applied to friends, family, or even yourself.

The next day, James and I got up in the air.  We first tackled the giant’s ladder.  It’s exactly what it sounds like: a giant ladder that reached from the floor all the way to the ceiling in the adventure room, suspended by cables.  Each rung was a slim log, spaced progressively further and further apart from each other, the higher up they were.  We were instructed to use different forms of support for each rung.  We watched group after group go before it was our turn.  In this time, we made our game plan: we didn’t care what rung we got to, how long it took us to get there, or anything else: all we were concerned with was being the most photogenic pair on the ladder for when Dan or Jesi took pictures.  This goal made it a lot funnier and easier to take on the ladder, which in all honesty, I was intimidated by.  However, we made it to the third rung, which was a pretty huge success in my eyes.  It was a nerve-wracking experience, but we made it humorous.  I almost started crying from laughter when James flopped over one of the rungs and made one of those strange noises he makes: it’s like halfway between a grunt and a hiccup… I’m not positive why he does it, but it made me laugh and made the obstacle a lot less stressful.   I think laughter is essential for making it through life. When conditions become uncomfortable or chilling, it’s good to find something to laugh about in order to loosen tension.

Giant's Ladder

When we moved onto the high ropes course, I didn’t know what to expect.  I am a gung-ho roller coaster person, so I thought the whole “being suspended high above the ground” thing woul

 

d be no issue, but then I got to the top.  Yup-  I was shaking with nerves.  James and I made it across a couple elements before our facilitator, Hanna

 

h, called to us from below and asked us to challenge us further.  I laughed at this, because to me, I thought that making it across these elements was challenge enough.  But she suggested trying to make obstacles even harder, by closing our eyes, or by letting go of our ropes. One element I remember distinctly was the two-platform jump (that’s what I call it.  Not sure if it has a real name…) Basically, between the two platforms were two other raised-pedestals.  I could barely get across them without white-knuckling my ropes.  Hannah came over and suggested I redo the obstacle, but this time, let go of the ropes.  I laughed and basically told her: “Uh, no.”  She was persistent and supportive enough to the point where I felt obligated to try again.  I let go of the ropes; I kid you not, I could not physically lift my foot in the air.  My body had been so struck by nerves that I was immobilized.  Hannah kept encouraging me from below, to the point where I no longer felt obligated to her, but now, to myself to tackle this challenge.  I finally picked up my foot, reached it across the gape between the pedestals, and planted it firmly.  I froze, split across two platforms, looking at James in disbelief of what I was doing.  That’s when I realized… I wasn’t believing in myself.  In life, I have very firm beliefs and usually a solid view of what I stand for.  Rarely do I lack belief in myself, so why was it on this course that I was different?  I started to muster up the courage to believe in what I was doing, to believe in James as he guided me across other obstacles, and believe that this was all just a test of my character.

My favorite memory from the weekend, other than playing Foursquare with Jurassic Parker, had to be the moment we all sat around the fire and shared what we appreciated about the weekend.  Listening to the upper class men share their gratitude for their mentees and vice-versa, others thank the administrative staff, and even more others being grateful for other reasons truly warmed my heart.  James volunteered to speak, and began to thank me for all that I taught him in the short tim

 

e that we’ve been working together.  I struggled to contain myself as the shivers shot through my body: the sensation, causing my hairs to stand up tall, rattled me inside.  I was in awe of the things he said about me, feeling over-sold, and couldn’t help but spring from my spot on the log, run over to him, and hug him like a brother.

Sitting in the dark, cool, night, looking at all the faces around us glowing in the fire’s light, and breathing in every ounce of positive energy that was emitted that night solidified my belief that I am where I belong.  With this group, I have already created memories that will give me a whole new feeling of nostalgia.  And with my mentor, we have formed one of the strangest, funniest, and over all greatest, mentor-mentee relationships I could have ever imagined.

Thank you LI for this amazing trip.  Thank you Sophomore Class, for taking us under your wing.  Thank you Group Three, for an awesome weekend.  Thank you James, for a lifetime of knowledge.

Mentee Mentor

A song to accompany my feelings while writing this post:

A video to accompany this post: