Participants reflecting on the leadership skills used to complete the Washington Challenge

Hamilton’s Levitt Leadership Institute (LLI) students spent their first week of spring break discovering how to be passionate, flexible and persistent in Washington, D.C. As organizers and participants in sessions with both governmental and non-profit organization leaders, they had the opportunity to demonstrate their newly acquired leadership skills.

In preparation for the trip, participants brainstormed and organized five different events, focused on foreign policy, domestic policy, human rights and social innovation.  They employed Hamilton’s alumni network to create a schedule full of impactful presentations and exchanges, discovering how to be passionate, flexible and persistent along the way.

Directed by program founder, former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, LLI is in its fifth year. Christine Powers, a leadership development trainer who has worked extensively with the State Department and Director of Hamilton’s Education Studies Program Susan Mason assisted Bushnell again in the second week of this two-week program.

The week of March 14 began with a student-planned reception, which provided a networking opportunity for the LLI participants, other Hamilton students currently in the Washington, D.C., program, and alumni working in the area. The reception allowed the LLI students to hear from alumni about the transition from college to the work force and the careers they had pursued.

An interactive panel on the Syrian refugee crisis was held at the American Foreign Services Club on March 15 with James H. Yellin ’60, Sam Werberg ’94, William Brodt ’11 and Elizabeth Parker-Magyar ’12. Each participant offered his or her own perspective concerning the refugee crisis and foreign policy. In discussing important leadership skills, Yellin, who now serves as a foreign service officer in the State Department, noted how important it is that the students speak up and voice their opinions. A question and answer session moderated by the students followed.

Another panel featured Vice President of Government Affairs at Qualcomm Alice Tornquist ’86 and Director of Environmental Advocacy for the Safe Climate Campaign  Daniel Becker ’77. The panel, broadly focused on domestic policy, emphasized how important it is to pursue one’s passions while also surrounding oneself with inspiring people who share the same drive to create change.

As Powers, Bushnell and Mason debriefed each event, they challenged students not only to reflect on the leadership skills displayed in the various panels and institutions, but to put these skills into practice and make significant change in our communities.

“Ambassador Bushnell’s distinction between doing what’s right and doing the right thing deeply resonated with me,” said Chidera Onyeoziri ’18. “Though we often get caught up with following the rules or sticking to the manual, it’s important to remember that, as leaders, we must never be afraid to defend our principles or to care for the well-being of our teammates.” Another student, Christina Florakis ’19, commented, “Witnessing everyone’s confidence in their ideas and projects prompted me to be even more passionate and confident in my own ideas.”

On the final day in Washington, students presented their commitment projects, original service projects in their respective communities – on Hamilton’s campus, in Utica, or in their hometowns.  Their undertakings focus on such topics as raising awareness for mental health, educational reform and building a stronger connection with the refugee community in Utica.

Students will receive a quarter-credit class for the remainder of the 2016 spring semester, working with Mason, to implement their projects in their respective communities. Each is to be completed before graduating from Hamilton.

With the conclusion of LLI 16, the students are prepared to implement new leadership skills and embrace the values developed during the Institute. The students will use critical concepts of leadership honed in D.C. to effectively implement their commitments and make social change.


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