The moment the video started, wide grins spread across the faces of those who gathered in the Millennium Student Center.
An opening photomontage reminded the small group of the team-building activities members had participated in during a retreat a few weeks prior. Then footage of one student aimlessly kicking the air while walking blindfolded provoked laughter as the classmates thought back on the struggles and triumphs of the weekend at Camp Wyman in Wildwood, Missouri.
The giggling and reminiscing among the University of Missouri–St. Louis Emerging Leaders continued for the length of the video premiere April 19.
After 11 weeks of exploring their individual strengths, weaknesses and leadership styles, the 10 students have become a family of sorts – one that enjoys inside jokes and takes time to understand and appreciate each member.
“The retreat was probably the most memorable part of the program because it brought us closer together as a group,” psychology and social work student Mallory Mason said. “We got to know each other on a deeper level and watch each other grow. The retreat definitely challenged us and put us to the test. We all got to bring out our inner strengths.”
The fun-filled weekend was both the conclusion and the high point of the semester-long Emerging Leaders program sponsored by the Office of Student Involvement.
The annual leadership education course is designed for first-year UMSL students who do not have much leadership experience. During weekly sessions, participants focused on identity development and communication skills with the goal of becoming effective campus and community leaders.
“Life isn’t just about the classroom. It’s the out-of-classroom experiences that really make the difference,” Coordinator of Leadership Education Xavier Blackwell said. “We want to connect students with all of the resources that we can to make sure they are successful right away. One of those is understanding that there are leadership education and leadership opportunities on campus that are really going to make the change for their college experiences.”
Blackwell admits that the students were a bit skeptical of the program during the first meeting – some too shy to speak up and others not sure if they were ready for the commitment. But after about 20 minutes, their concerns eased and the conversations flowed.
“I learned how to be open,” computer science major Kameran Stennis said. “I’m really not one to initiate conversations with people. I’m an introvert. But with everybody being so open, it taught me to be open to other people and new situations. Everybody comes from different walks of life, and they bring different things to the table. You can learn a lot from other people. They can teach you a lot about yourself.”
The topics students explored included self-awareness, public speaking, conflict resolution and the value of reflection. These themes combined with theory-based education, mentorship opportunities and challenging activities allowed the aspiring leaders to develop a better understanding of their individual identities.
“I’ve learned more about my personality, how I handle things and how I relate to other people,” public policy and social work student Lucy Grimshaw said. “It’s totally OK how I do it, and I don’t have to be like anyone else. There’s a place for us all. You just have to figure out your place.”
The 10 students who started also completed the program, which required attending the overnight retreat and at least 80 percent of the 90-minute classes. Many of the graduates have expressed interest in the Office of Student Involvement’s Advanced Leaders program, which will take place during the fall semester and expand upon students’ current leadership skills.
“I want them to keep growing,” Blackwell said. “I want them to see how much effort they put into the program and how much they are appreciated. I don’t want them to stop. This is just the beginning.”