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LLI “Opened my eyes to civic engagement and leadership”


As students in the 8th Levitt Leadership Institute (LLI) head to Washington, D.C., or the Highlander Center for Research and Education for the second week of their program, Krista Hesdorfer ’14 offers this reflection as a member of the first LLI cohort. Hesdorfer says LLI helped shape her career path —  she is currently working at Hunger Solutions New York as an advocate for federal nutrition assistance programs.

The inaugural Levitt Leadership Institute (LLI) began with a curious challenge: create an apparatus out of balloons, scotch tape, and pipe cleaners to protect an egg dropped from the second floor of KJ to the brick walkway below. I will admit I ordinarily have a healthy skepticism of such team-building activities, but when Ambassador Prudence Bushnell hands you craft supplies and a mission, you give it your all. Sure enough, every LLI activity, from the silly to the serious, imparted valuable lessons in leadership – and don’t worry, KJ and the eggs made it out unscathed.

During the first week of the LLI, 18 of us student participants spent a week of winter break on campus as Ambassador Bushnell and Christine Powers led us through an assortment of exercises in personal and professional development. We evaluated our individual leadership styles, identified our strengths and areas for growth, studied and practiced effective team management, and interviewed local community leaders to learn from their experiences. We also had the privilege of hearing firsthand about Ambassador Bushnell’s leadership throughout her career and especially following the 1998 bombing of the Kenyan embassy. It was beyond humbling, and I remain grateful for her service and willingness to share her story.

The second week took place over spring break; we traveled to Washington, D.C., just as the cherry blossoms reached their peak. There we met with leaders in a variety of organizations and agencies, including the U.S. Department of State, the Federal Communications Commission, and several think tanks and nonprofits. Between these interviews, we explored the city, enjoying monuments and museums and touring the Capitol, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and even the White House bowling alley.

To close out the week, each of us planned a commitment project, ensuring the work of the LLI would continue long after we returned to campus. My project focused on fostering meaningful intersectional dialogues about socioeconomic class and included facilitating the Money Talks speaker series with generous support from the Levitt Center and other campus groups.

Undoubtedly, the LLI helped inform my career path, encouraging my interest in public service and opening my eyes to a breadth of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Its lessons travel with me in my current work as an advocate for federal assistance programs, and as I pursue graduate studies in public administration and policy. I especially appreciate the many community leaders and public servants who shared their perspectives with us; with the benefit of their insights, I am a better partner and advocate in my work with schools, nonprofits, and state and federal agencies.

 I am heartened to see the LLI continue under the expert leadership of Professor Susan Mason, who I had the privilege to learn from in the Education Studies program. As this year’s LLI class travels to DC, I encourage them to fully embrace every opportunity to learn and grow as leaders, and to put their skills to meaningful use at Hamilton and beyond.

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