Levitt Leaders Go to Washington

Levitt Leaders - Washington, D.C.
Levitt Leaders - Washington, D.C.

Retired Ambassador Prudence Bushnell has, in her words, “unfinished business” in her efforts to promote leadership. During her career in the Foreign Service, she sounded alarm bells concerning the genocide in Rwanda as Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, led long-term recovery efforts as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in the aftermath of the 1998 al Qaeda attacks in East Africa,  served as U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala and headed up the U.S. Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School.  Now, Pru Bushnell, as she likes to be called by her students, has a new focus.

With generous funding from Arthur Levitt Jr., Ambassador Bushnell and her colleague, Christine Powers, former director of the Executive Development Division at the   Foreign Service Institute, teamed up with the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center to create a leadership institute.  Seventeen students were selected as the first class of the Levitt Leadership Institute (LLI). Over two separate week-long periods, one in January on Hamilton’s campus and one in Washington, D.C., in March, our group learned about the theory and practice of leadership with the ultimate goal of making a difference in our communities.

To that end, during the first week of the Institute we learned about leadership theories and practiced leadership skills by working on various projects. One successful assignment was planning and making dinner for a group of 50 students and faculty. During the second week in Washington, D.C., we met with leaders in a broad range of fields and visited different organizations and  offices. Here is what the week looked like:

On Monday, Levitt Leaders met with Katie Shorey and her colleagues at the Partnership for Public Service where they discussed their work simplifying federal internship and job applications and increasing youth participation in public service. On Tuesday, we met with Ray Leki, director of the Transition Center at the U.S. Department of State, who spoke about different styles of leadership in crisis situations and  shared his stories about leadership in crisis and then had us engage in a  crisis simulation.

Later in the day, we were exposed to life on Capitol Hill, listening to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez’s communications director, Patricia Enright, and Under Press Secretary Megan Dougherty, who discussed their experiences in the press and how to deal with a changing media landscape. The group then walked from Capitol Hill to the Federal Communications Commission to discuss the FCC’s role in government.

After a full day, we had the option of visiting with Steve Culberston ’79, CEO of Youth Service America (YSA), who spoke about YSA’s mission to encourage youth to make a difference. He emphasized student achievement, workplace readiness and strong community. In the evening, White House staffer Sara Feuerstein ’07 treated the group to a tour of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where we saw the Old War Room, the White House Bowling Alley and the grounds of the White House West Wing.

Wednesday morning began with a discussion with Susan Collin Marks, senior vice president of Search for Common Ground, who spoke about leadership of the self, through three principles:  authentic leadership, leadership for the whole and compassionate leadership. She also provided insights into how Search for Common Ground, deals with conflict - by understanding differences and acting on commonalities.  The organization uses media and works with local people to find common ground in conflict situations. Later, Levitt Leaders visited the Heritage Foundation and spoke with Israel Ortega ’02, who is the editor of Libertad.org and a Spanish media associate.

Thursday began with a discussion of the students’ commitment to make a difference. We had the opportunity to write and submit questions left unanswered by previous speakers. Later, Hamilton alumni joined us for a panel discussion. They included Laura Gault ’11 from CAMRIS; Katie McGuire ’11, project coordinator at IOS Partners; Haley Peterson ’11, press assistant/staff assistant for Vermont Congressman Peter Welch; and Sara Feuerstein ’07 from the White House Office of Public Engagement. The alumni offered us advice and insights about leadership, internships and careers. They emphasized humility, diligence, patience, planning ahead, taking initiative, being intentional and taking advantage of the valuable experience provided by entry-level positions. Levitt Leaders also had the opportunity to explore Washington, D.C., visiting the monuments, museums, and even the 7th floor of the State Department.

Friday began with student commitment presentations, including ideas for environmental programs in Clinton, creating a Hamilton College television station and starting discussions about class issues on college campuses. During a final question and answer session, Pru Bushnell underscored her hope that the two weeks of intensive training emphasized the point that real people everywhere are exercising leadership, no matter what rank they may hold.  Hamilton students can, as well.


Quotes from Levitt Leadership Institute participants:

Zhuolun Du ’15

LLI taught me a lesson on leadership: not the kind of leadership that constructs bureaucracy, hierarchy and haughtiness, but the kind that works on passion, trust and teamwork. It is very hard for people to understand the difference, but once they realize it, they will make a difference.

Julia Grace Brimelow ’14

The Levitt Leadership Institute has been a dynamic learning experience.  A combination of theory and practice, the program forced participants to view leadership on relational terms. Self-knowledge, or emotional intelligence, stood out for me as the most key component of leadership.  The understanding of individual needs and personal characteristics allows a leader to better regulate and administrate a group towards a unified goal. Most importantly, emotional intelligence allows a leader to recognize and harness the talents of group members, creating a collaborative group environment.

Week one, in Clinton, N.Y., focused on the theory of leadership. As a group, we were asked to define leadership. Our lists included many characteristics of effective leaders and leadership, including resilience, respect, communication, optimism, compassion and creativity.  During week two, in Washington, D.C., we were able to see how leaders in our nation’s capital embody these characteristics.

Krista Hesdorfer ’14
Prudence Bushnell and Christine Powers addressed topic areas of motivation, conflict resolution and communication through a combination of lectures, team initiatives and the sharing of personal experiences, leaving us with a well-rounded introduction to leadership. Subsequent interviews and presentations with community or business leaders allowed us to gain from the actual experiences of leaders and to better understand the relevance of each facet of the Leadership Institute applied in the real world.

The Levitt Leadership Institute has been a productive and enjoyable experience, one I would readily recommend to friends and classmates. This experience will surely motivate and assist us as we assume leadership roles on campus and beyond.

Max E. Schnidman ’14

I found the Levitt Leadership Institute to be an excellent experience, successfully combining the theory and practice of leadership into an effective program that gave me the tools necessary to be an effective and empathetic leader. Through studying the theory of leadership at Hamilton College and the practice of leadership in Washington, D.C., I learned not only how to lead, but also how to follow others and give others the opportunity to lead.

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