by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
While last Friday’s frigid temperatures and snow created a frosty coda to winter break, things were heating up for the 34 students in Allison Hall. It was their second day together for the 2024 Emerging Leaders Retreat (ELR), and they were only getting started on a four-part adventure focused on creating meaningful change.
The ELR provides opportunities for first- and second-year students to build connections and skills that will equip them to make meaningful marks on campus and in the wider world. Participants are nominated by faculty, staff, coaches and student leaders. Thirty students applied and were accepted into this year’s program, and four ELR alumni took part as student mentors. While guest speakers provided insights on leadership grounded in individual, group and societal values, students also participated in small-group discussions, workshops and team-building exercises.
“One of the goals this year was to split the time between guest speakers, critical thinking and self-discovery,” said Ryan Patton, project coordinator for campus life, “by including more activities and teambuilders that encourage students to apply the values they’re learning about in a practical way.”
The program began Thursday, Jan. 18, with sessions focused on setting goals and maximizing strengths. The next day, students identified their personal values with guidance from campus leaders from the athletics department, Division of Student Life and Office of Academic Advising, and they saw values-centered leadership in action, courtesy of Josie Rodriguez ’24, an international business & management major and R.A.I.S.E member. On Saturday, they dove into a session on civility in the midst of controversy with Amy McKiernan, director of Dickinson’s ethics program, and a panel discussion led by Rodriguez and fellow student mentors Cara Kamoie ’26 (environmental science), Cate Lord ’24 (psychology) and Andrew Garcia ’26 (law & policy). The ELR closed with thoughts on citizenship and the ways that participants could apply what they learned to bettering the world.
Aidan McIntosh '27 (quantitative economics) shared that learning to identify his own strengths and use them to reach his highest potential was key. Damien Labrada '27 developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader and to serve his community. He also discovered the value of appreciating differing opinions and of active listening.
The idea that leadership is a purposeful, collaborative and values-based process also resonated with Evan McClure ’27, one of three Reynolds Scholars to participate in this year’s ELR. He especially enjoyed the team-building exercises and McKiernan’s talk about civility.
“The emphasis on not necessarily agreeing with someone but doing so in a respectful manner that encourages further discussion is such a powerful concept and so important to our world’s current state,” McClure said. “The only way to true progress is by conducting those tough conversations with curiosity and empathy.”
At the close of the retreat, the students were encouraged to take advantage of another potentially transformational experience geared toward helping Dickinson students learn to co-create a more just and thriving world: LeaderShape.
Held March 12-15 at the Mt. Asbury Retreat Center in Newville, Pa., LeaderShape is an immersive program developed by the not-for-profit organization of the same name and made available to Dickinsonians through support by Steve Smith '92, president and CEO of L.L.Bean. It creates space and time to connect through meaningful conversations that, like ELR, center leadership development on personal values in the context of building community. All Dickinson students who wish to strengthen and/or develop leadership skills are invited to apply to LeaderShape. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 27.
“It's a one-of-a-kind experience that invites students to learn and grow with other students and mentors as they discover what it means to be a leader in today’s world," said Kevin Foster, executive director of campus life.
McClure is eager to take advantage of every opportunity he’s offered through Dickinson to grow and connect. “This campus has so many bright, powerful minds that, when put together, can truly create something special,” he said.
Rodriguez agrees. "The kindness, support and honesty I saw in these students showed me that Dickinson is continuing to educate future leaders, and the college is in good hands," she said.
Published January 23, 2024