When I was a senior in high school, my Mom and I took a visit to the University of Kansas. I was already pretty sure I was going to attend this incredible place, but decided to visit again to meet with professors and learn more about the academic and extra-curricular activities available. As we walked around campus, we meandered into Bailey Hall and started picking up pamphlets with all of the programs, including one titled “Leadership Studies Minor”. In that moment, I knew that this program would be a vital part of my KU experience. While I didn’t start taking classes for the LSM at first, for the past 3 years, I have had the true honor and privilege to be part of the Leadership Studies Minor at the University of Kansas.
I have learned about myself, about other people, and about different communities all around the world. As part of our Capstone Project, I’m excited to share some of the major takeaways from my experiences with leadership. While these moments happened both at KU and off campus, all of them connect directly from my learning from the LSM and the growth I’ve experienced from this program over the past few years. I’ve grouped these moments and experiences into 5 groups: Self-Examination, Social Justice, Jewish, KU Campus, and Life Lessons. Associated with each of these groups is also a person that truly influenced and mentored me, as well as a book that I’ve read in the last year that connects well with that area of my learning. These reflections are short, tight, and succinct in order to place value in each and every word of my description.
Self-Examination: Learning about myself to spur growth
Dr. Mary Banwart — Director, KU Institute for Leadership Studies
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
I am drawn to leadership development activities because of its focus on creating the best version of myself. Reflection through thinking and writing is a key component to understanding one’s ability to practice leadership. Through several survey experiences, including Strengths Quest, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Do What You Are, I experienced very detailed methods of examining my personality, strengths, and possible career paths. Several of our projects, including the Student Leadership Practices 360 Inventory, 3 Things Project, and Mission, Vision, Values Project, allowed others to participate in our process of examination and provide their perspectives. My writing exercises for the Writer’s Colloquium course challenged me to select three stories that represent who I am as a person; my stories focused on my passion for Judaism, politics, and education. I also wrote an essay about my identity as a biracial Jew for my American Social Problems course, discussing my experiences with identity, education systems, and societal benefits. All of these experiences challenged me to examine my entire self, wrestle with becoming a more whole person, and understand my place in the world. As I prepare to leave KU, I know myself and my potential.
Social Justice: Pursuing justice and righteousness
Cody Charles — Associate Director, KU Office of Multicultural Affairs
Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Working toward a more whole and compassionate world has always been one of my pursuits in life. However, my experiences in the Introduction to Leadership course stretched my comprehension of the challenges present in communities around the world. With guidance from my incredible mentor Cody Charles, I wrestled with privilege, oppression, and justice and their necessary connections to leadership. From these experiences, I looked to expand my thinking and take meaningful action. As our country struggled to talk about racism over the past couple of years, I took on the task of bringing those conversations to the Jewish community by writing part of the #BlackLivesMatter Hagaddah, facilitating a panel on Jews, civil rights, and racial justice at a national Hillel conference, and giving the MLK Jr. sermon about racial justice at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis. As I prepare to take these ideas and commitment toward justice into the next phase of my life, participating in the Colors of KU Social Justice & Diversity Retreat gave me invaluable connections and learning to feed my fire and ensure this remains a lasting component of my life.
Jewish: Faithfully seeking a higher purpose
Jay Lewis — Executive Director, KU Hillel
Relational Judaism by Ron Wolfson
From my experiences in youth group in high school, I always saw a connection between Judaism and leadership. One of my favorite teachings from my experiences at the URJ Kutz Camp and in NFTY (Reform Jewish youth movement) is on generational leadership, or the idea that every act of leadership should concern the past, present, and future. This concept gave me a powerful grounding for my Legacy Project, which focused on the creation of the Hillel International Student Cabinet, a group of 24 Jewish college students from around the world that will work to address some of the difficult challenges confronting the Hillel movement. Presenting at the 2015 URJ Biennial about the concepts of adaptive leadership brought the work of the LSM directly to important stakeholders in the Jewish community. Meeting with Jay Lewis as my Leadership Coach this year has brought rich meaning to my understanding of leadership as an instrumental tool to strengthen the entire Jewish community and ensure it fulfills its purpose of making the world a more whole place. Knowing that I have Jay on my side, as well as all of the incredible experiences from my internships with KU Hillel, I feel confident in my abilities to impact the Jewish community.
KU Campus: Engaging an inspired community
Marsha Carrasco-Cooper — Assistant Director, KU Student Involvement & Leadership Center
The Work by Wes Moore
My leadership experiences at KU have provided me with invaluable and life-changing moments and relationships. My work with the Peer Leadership Consultants, and the Peer Consultation Project that aimed to strengthen the group, gave me an outlet to hone my leadership development skills to help other students and organizations. As one of the ExCEL Winners (Excellence in Community, Education, and Leadership) I crafted Blueprints Leadership Conference, a 1-day event that provided 50 students with the necessary skills to begin practicing leadership. Through both of these experiences, my mentor, Marsha Carrasco-Cooper supported and challenged me to fulfill my potential in serving the KU community. During sophomore year, I participated in the LeaderShape retreat, a 6-day event that gave me and 64 other students the networks, skills, and inspiration to more effectively practice leadership. That year was also when I worked under the guidance of Dr. Mary Banwart for my Political Communication course to create a class campaign for the Governor of Kansas, expanding my interest in politics even further as a model for positive change and impact. My Tolerance Day project was a phenomenal learning experience that gave me a family in the LSM (thanks to “The Raptors” Ally, Michael, Christy, Majda, and Chama) and the opportunity to interact with dozens of students around KU. From all of these experiences, I feel more confident in my ability to see and use leadership throughout all facets of my life in the future.
Life Lessons: Experiencing a life of meaning and happiness
Rueben Perez — Former Director, KU Student Involvement & Leadership Center
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
While I gain life lessons from many different experiences, there have been moments in the LSM that speak to me beyond the concept of leadership. Working with one of my true mentors, Rueben Perez, I explored the valuable lessons that come the FISH philosophy. These weekly challenges forced me to expand my comfort zone and ensure that I always remember to think about the well-being of others before myself. I had vastly different experiences with all of my Accountability Partners this semester, but especially connected with my last partner, Laura Metz. In addition to checking-in about our leadership projects, we also grew together as explored our relationships, religion, and overall purpose in life. For several years, The Alchemist was on my reading list and I finally took the time to read it this semester. From this simple, yet powerful book, I now know that I need to pursue my life journey of inspiring other people to create a more whole and compassionate world. Life lessons find their way to me in a number of different ways and I can’t wait to continue learning from them in the future.
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