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New Leadership Events Help Students Develop Lifelong Skills

Students discussing leadership in a group

The goal of Emerging Leaders Day was to help students enhance their leadership skills and think about what it means to be a leader both at Swarthmore and in the world.

In April, the Center for Innovation and Leadership (CIL) set the stage for leadership development with two new events - a leadership conference and a senior showcase co-sponsored by the Writing Center and Speaking Associates program – both with the goal of helping students become better leaders.

The first event was a leadership conference titled Emerging Leaders Day. Its goal was to help Swarthmore students enhance their leadership skills and think about what it means to be a leader both at Swarthmore and in the world.

Over 40 students attended the event, which included accomplished guest speakers and informative breakout sessions. The day began with a DISC assessment from Associate Director of Athletics Nnena Akotaobi. Students took this self-assessment, providing insights to improve each student’s productivity, teamwork, communication, and understanding of self. Students then moved into breakout sessions hosted by College staff on topics such as self-awareness, quiet leadership, and ethics.

The day concluded with a talk from Desiree Peterkin-Bell ‘00, a strategic planner, brand strategist, and communications specialist. She has spent her career in public service leading communications and strategy for former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, while also previously working with former Newark Mayor and current New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Peterkin-Bell spoke about her drive for purpose, not position, and how this has informed the career decisions she has made.

Ashley Hong ‘17, who attended the leadership conference, walked away impressed. “The conference was the first Center for Innovation and Leadership event I attended and I was totally blown away. It was so well organized, I have never seen anything like this at Swarthmore. It was really cool that I met other people that I didn’t know who were also interested in learning about leadership together.”

Katie Clark, CIL coordinator, highlighted the fact that students did not need to be club leaders to attend the conference. “One of the goals of the Center for Innovation and Leadership is to provide students with leadership skill sets that don’t necessarily mean being a president or a co-president of a student organization,” she says. “There are a plenty of other skills students can hone in on that can be applied while leading, supporting, or being a fantastic team member.”

Aaron Jackson '16
Aaron Jackson '16, a film and media studies major from Round Lake, Ill., presents his work during the inaugural Senior Showcase.

A week later, in conjunction with Jill Gladstein, associate professor of English literature and director of the Writing Center and Speaking Associates Program, and Tristan Smith, assistant professor of physics, the CIL hosted the inaugural Senior Showcase. At the showcase, 18 seniors had three minutes to explain their thesis or senior project to an audience of staff, faculty, and fellow students.

The presentations were separated into three groups of six, with an intermission period to digest the information between each group. Each presenter received tips and coaching from a Speaking Associate within the Writing Center.

Annie Tvetenstrand ‘16, an Honors English literature major from Summit, N.J., gave a presentation on the use of comedy to address serious issues in literature. “I’ve never been a part of an event before where I have been presenting and I was also super engaged with what everyone else was saying," she says. "Usually I am too nervous beforehand and too emotional afterwards to really focus but I was engaged the whole time for this event. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to present to my peers.”

A project by Christine Emery ‘16 couldn’t have been more different. The engineering major’s project sought to design a better laparoscopic grasper, a tool used in laparoscopy surgery.

“I thought it was a fantastic program. This really helped me identify what is the most important part of my project,” Emery says. “Being able to present to an audience and get feedback about my presenting skills was so valuable.”

“A major marker of being a solid leader is being able to communicate your ideas in an effective way,” says Clark. “It is powerful for students to take a project they have been working on for a long time and successfully communicate their idea.”

Smith was impressed with the students’ efforts, despite their initial fears.

“As we were working with students, some would come to us and say ‘I can’t explain all the work that I’ve done in three minutes!’ But we worked with them and really got people across that line where they found they could say something meaningful within three minutes,” he says. “The liberal arts is all about education and community so the idea that people can talk to their family, friends, and the rest of the community about these projects that they have spent so much time and energy on, that all works into a bigger picture.”

Clark is looking forward to repeating both of these programs in the 2016-2017 academic year.

“I am happy to say we’re planning on repeating both of these events next year," she says. "The CIL learns with each interaction and each event, much like a start-up, and hope to build on the success of the Leadership Conference and Senior Showcase. Partnering with Tristan and Jill was a highlight as we are able to bridge some similar goals for students – improving self-awareness and verbal communication of complex ideas.”

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