Lead On

students work through exercises during the emerging leaders retreat

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Emerging Leaders Retreat brings first-year students together for leadership exercises

by Tony Moore 

What is a leader?

At Dickinson, let’s start with team captains, class officers and students active in Student Senate. Too easy? How about students who have started campus clubs or led a service trip? Or maybe leaders can be just students others look to for answers, who have a quiet confidence that just makes sense to those around them.

Let’s go with all of the above, and then some.

On a campus like Dickinson’s, there are countless ways for leadership to define itself, and during this year’s Emerging Leaders Retreat (ELR), first-year students of every stripe found like minds waiting.

“I’m highly involved on campus, participating in many clubs, and I’m in a leadership position in the Global Gastronomy Group, the Math and Computer Science Club and the Morgan Field Community Board,” says Steven Fitzpatrick '18, one of this year’s participants. “So I wanted to get a better sense of how I can better contribute to the success of these groups.”

Four days together

The ELR first took flight in the 1990s before going on hiatus from the mid-2000s until spring 2014. Student participants are nominated by faculty members, staff and alumni, and for the spring 2015 session, 45 new students took part in the four-day retreat just before classes began.

“For those who have already self-identified as leaders, it helps give them skills to be better leaders,” says Josh Eisenberg, who ran the 2015 retreat as class dean and interim director of student leadership & campus engagement. “Our goal is for people to learn to lead so they can create more leaders, not lead to create more followers. And for those who may have been surprised by their nomination, it helps them to explore their leadership skills and learn to lead.”

The 2015 ELR was led by nine student mentors and featured team-building exercises inspired by the retreat’s theme this year, “Blazing a Trail.” Also Joyce Bylander, vice president and dean of student life, incorporated a tradition spanning the history of the retreat, using her "I Am Becoming …" poem to draw students out to talk about how they see themselves developing throughout their college experience.

The big takeaway

As intended, ELR is an event that stays with students, changes them, its impact lasting far longer than the retreat’s four days or the students’ four years on campus.

“The most important thing I took away was confidence,” says Lindsay Bowman ’04, a history teacher at Harrisburg Academy who was an ELR participant in 2001. “I met great people who inspired me, and ELR helped me come out of my freshman shell.”  

John Loughney ’03, now an event coordinator with the Washington Speakers Bureau, also looks back fondly on the experience.

“That first semester of college was hard—trying to find my footing academically and seeking out a new group of friends—but ELR kicked off my second semester with a bang,” he says. “Anyone who came into the ELR program with an open mind and a willingness to learn and lead left the program to do great things across campus.”

From one iteration of ELR to the next, the common thread might be that students come out of the program to find success through knowing themselves and their classmates in new ways.

“If I were to convince incoming students to participate in this program,” says Samantha Miller '18, one of this year’s participants, “I would say that they should take advantage of this opportunity because it allows you to develop leadership qualities within yourself that you might not have known were there.”

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Published February 5, 2015