For the past six years a group of students has returned from winter break early to converge on the otherwise vacant Kirner-Johnson academic building. One group of 28 come with the hopes of learning how to recognize, develop and practice the kinds of leadership skills that are essential to create personal and societal change.
These are all students participating in the Levitt Leadership Institute (LLI).
The structure of the LLI is deceptively simple to an outsider’s perspective: it’s a two-week intensive program that teaches and contextualizes leadership skills, group-work techniques, and networking, among other important skills.
The institute is a two-week intensive leadership-training program held on campus and in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to help students recognize, develop and practice the kinds of leadership skills that are essential to create personal and societal change.
Students spend the first week on campus learning the foundational skills, and then spend a week in the spring in Washington DC to apply their knowledge to the real world.
Both portions of the program also involve interviews and networking with local leaders and persons of interest. The emphasis on immersive community-based learning helps further solidify the mission of forging change-seeking community leaders.
An especially meaningful feature of the LLI is the “Commitment-to-Action” project that students propose and develop over the course of the program, and implement after the program has ended. This capstone project is designed by the students themselves, allowing them to focus on the issues most relevant to them while also encouraging new and innovative ways of thinking.
Prudence Bushnell, a former U.S. ambassador, and Christine Powers, a leadership-training expert, formally lead the on-campus portions. But the program has proved so successful over the years that a number of alumni return to campus annually to participate and help as needed.
Izzy Van Hook ’11, for example, has come back to Hamilton every year since she graduated to help keep the LLI running smoothly. Thus the LLI has proved to not only help students learn valuable career and life skills, but also serves as a bridge between students and alumni that provides a unique perspective for students aspiring to implement social change.
At the same time another 16 students took part in the Social Innovation Fellows workshop that is designed to prepare and support students who aim to use innovative approaches to address persistent social problems.
The program is facilitated by Anke Wessels and modeled after an award-winning course she teaches at Cornell University. Select projects receive funding and mentoring support.