The momentum of the 4th annual Levitt Leadership Institute continued off-campus in Washington, D.C., the week of March 16. Led again by Former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Christine Powers, and later joined by Director of Hamilton’s Education Studies Program Susan Mason, the group applied leadership lessons learned in the first week in January, and viewed leadership-in-action in our nation’s capital.
The LLI week in Washington centered around five different events planned, organized and executed by student groups formed at the end of the first week of LLI. Each group derived from interests in international affairs, congressional affairs, the non-profit sector, the Department of Justice and alumni networking. The weeks between the first and second halves of LLI gave each group time to meet the “Washington Challenge”: envision an interactive event around a topic of interest in the Washington D.C. area, and make it happen.
A panel at the United States Agency for International Development on March 17 fostered dialogue between students and alumni in international affairs. Hosted by Christie Vilsack K’72, the group visited the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington for an interactive panel, which featured Vilsack as well as Stephen O’Dowd ’81, Brendan O’Donoghue ’04, and Kim Bauer ’08. During a question and answer session moderated by the students, each alumnus offered perspectives on leadership and the intertwining nature of their organizations in development, diplomacy, and defense.
The group then visited the offices Youth Serves America (YSA) to hear CEO Steve Culbertson ’79 speak about his experiences leading a non-profit organization. Echoing the advice of alumni from the USAID panel, Culbertson encouraged students not to ask for permission to take on a social problem, but instead to take active leadership initiative and begin the process of social change.
Students experienced the high energy of Capitol Hill in meetings with Stephanie Valle ’05, chief of staff for Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Hunter Ridgway, chief of staff for Matt Cartwright ’84 (D-PA). Each gave advice on how best to move forward despite the revolving-door nature of the Hill. The afternoon ended at the Department of Justice, where students toured the historic library and met with Phil Toomajian ’01, a current trial attorney at the DOJ. The string of student-planned events concluded with a reception, which provided a networking opportunity for the LLI students, Hamilton students currently participating in the Washington Semester, and many alumni working in the DC area.
In debriefings of each event, Powers and Bushnell challenged each student to critically reflect on leadership displayed in the various Washington institutions. “This week opened my eyes to all the possibilities that Washington has to offer. I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader not just in government, but in all settings,” said Sara Purinton ’17.
On the final day of the program, students made pitches for an original service project in their respective communities—whether on Hamilton’s campus, in Utica, or in their hometowns. To aid these efforts, Professor Susan Mason has offered a quarter-credit class for the remainder of the semester and a collaborative space for each participant to work on their projects.
Though LLI 2015 has officially come to an end, the spirit of the program continues as each student crafts plans that focus on the refugee community in Utica, local environmental sustainability, and youth empowerment, among other important issues. Moving forward, the connection of leadership concepts that the students gained in both classroom settings and in Washington will prove critical in implementing commitment projects and ultimately social change.