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5th Annual Levitt Leadership Institute Fosters Empathy and Self-Awareness


“I am convinced that individual human beings can make a difference.”

The proclamation made by Prudence Bushnell, an American diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to Kenya and Guatemala and the former Sol M. Linowitz Visiting Professor of International Relations at Hamilton, established the framework for the Hamilton students participating in the 5th annual Levitt Leadership Institute, Jan. 10-15.

“My journey is moving towards its end and yours is just beginning,” she said, inspiring the 23 selected students to venture outside their comfort zones by reshaping how they view themselves and the world. Bushnell, with the help of Christine Powers, Susan Mason, professor of education at Hamilton, Isabelle Van Hook ’11, Tsion Tesfaye ’16 and James Mesiti ’17, challenged the students to develop their leadership skills through team initiatives, lectures, and personal reflections.

Bushnell and Powers’ experiences with leadership in the federal government was the driving force of the training team. Bushnell’s career in the foreign service was marked by her appointment as ambassador of Kenya in 1996 and ambassador of Guatemala in 1999. She then served as dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute in 2002.  Powers has held positions with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Foreign Service Institute, where she trained senior Foreign Service officers. She is responsible for leadership training, coaching and consulting in the federal government with both domestic and foreign affairs agencies.

The Institute focused on the shifting definition of leadership and its many aspects, including conflict-resolution, communication, and active listening. The team initiatives not only challenged the students to complete a task, but also required them to be inclusive and empathetic. “The team initiatives not only helped us grow as individuals but also as a group,” reflected Hersheena Rajaram ’19.

Numerous activities prompted the students to leave the traditional classroom setting and explore their collaboration and leadership skills unmonitored. Each student was able to interview a local leader in the Utica community, which allowed them to garner valuable information specific to their own interests. These interviews deeply resonated with many students as they began to consider their current efforts to make a contribution in the community. “Sometimes we don’t think we can do something, but we won’t ever really know until we try,” concluded Alice Chen ’18, as she made plans to become more involved on campus. Students also completed a “Chef Challenge” in McEwen with the help of Bon Appetit and held a reception hosting Larry Gilroy ’81 and President Joan Hinde Stewart.

At the end of the first week, students were able to become more self-aware because they built off of one another’s strengths, weaknesses, and diverse backgrounds. “The collaborative and friendly atmosphere cultivated by the training team generated an environment in which we could really push the envelope on what we found comfortable,” stated Andy Chen ’16. The diverse perspective of each student added a wealth of knowledge to every discussion and activity.

The knowledge and self-awareness gained throughout the first week will prove valuable as the students prepare for the second week of the Institute in Washington D.C., where they will plan and implement various networking events between March 13 and 18.

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