Twenty-five students returned to campus a week early over winter break for the Levitt Leadership Institute, an intensive program designed to help students develop, practice, and employ leadership skills in whatever discipline they pursue. Originally created by Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Christine Powers, the program is now led by Susan Mason, former Education Studies director, along with subject matter experts and student leaders.

This year’s subject matter experts were Isabelle Van Hook ’11, philanthropy officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Zack Schuman, organizational health coach at McKinsey & Company; and Tsion Tesfaye ’16, entrepreneurial leadership fellow at the African Leadership Academy.

Student leaders Acacia Bowden ’20 and Vincent Tran ’18, who participated in the Institute last year, helped run the program by facilitating discussion, offering feedback, and taking care of logistics. They also organized social events that helped participants get to know each other outside of the classroom.

Savannah Kelly ’21 said, “I learned a lot about how to be a transformative leader in my community and abroad through the enhancement of my communication and design thinking process. My favorite part… was getting this opportunity with students from all walks of life.”

Each day, students began with a lesson on mindfulness and self-reflection before transitioning to leadership activities. After Mason taught a few lessons on the basic components of leadership, the subject matter experts introduced more strategies on how to become an effective leader. Isabelle Van Hook ’11 focused on the key components of building and leading a team by sharing insights from her work with Planned Parenthood. Team-building activities then challenged the participants to collaborate in different situations.

Later, Zack Schuman conducted a workshop on Centered Leadership, a transformational leadership model used by leaders of all levels at top businesses and non-profits worldwide. Participants learned that their ability to inspire change depends on them being able to recognize and understand their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Much of the lesson focused on introspection. Almadhi Mahil ’20 said, “I learned that leadership does not require any trappings of power but usually requires collaboration and sustained self-development.”

Tsion Tesfaye facilitated the workshop on design thinking. From this lesson, participants learned the importance of empathy, point of view, and revision when working through social innovation challenges. They were able to apply the skills on a smaller scale before using them to address societal issues such as sexual assault, mental health, and free speech on college campuses.

Participants also met with local leaders through interviews and community dinners on campus. “From my perspective there was a tremendous amount of growth, understanding, healthy interdependence, and fun for all – including me,” said Mason. The second week of the program will include either a week in Washington D.C. with Mason and the student leaders or a week at the Highlander Institute in Tennessee with Professor Margo Okazawa-Rey.

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