Office of Precollegiate Student Services staff member named a FOCUS St. Louis Emerging Leader

FOCUS St. Louis selected UMSL staff member Monica Fleischer as one of its 33 2019 Emerging Leaders. (Photo by August Jennewein)

FOCUS St. Louis selected UMSL staff member Monica Fleisher as one of its 33 2019 Emerging Leaders. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Thanks to her grandparents’ fascination with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – and after attending various leadership development programs – Monica Fleisher thought she was an old hat when it came to the MBTI test.

So when, at the first meeting of the FOCUS St. Louis Emerging Leaders program, the organizers rolled out the MBTI, the University of Missouri–St. Louis staff member thought there was nothing new she could get from it.

Which is why FOCUS St. Louis’ approach to the often-used personality tests seem like such a good sign.

“They made it pretty clear that there wasn’t one type of leader that they thought was going to be best for St. Louis or best in general,” she said. “We talked about how introverts can be leaders, and leaders can be creative people or those who are more street smart or practical. Having those different approaches being all valued by the program was really cool.”

It was that kind of novel thinking that caught Fleisher’s eye when she first spied the leadership program on a resume. That was enough for her to start digging into the program, writing essay responses for an application and getting references. Then, in September, Fleisher – who works as a program coordinator in the Office of Precollegiate Student Services – was thrilled to find out she’d been one of 33 selected for the fall 2019 cohort.

Open to applicants between ages 22-35, the FOCUS program aims to foster the next generation of St. Louis leaders by engaging participants in the region’s inner workings. It started with a two-day retreat in September and ends with a graduation and networking event in May.

In between, participants attend sessions twice a month at different St. Louis locations, such as the Great Rivers Greenway office and the Beyond Housing headquarters, and work on a civic action project with a small peer group. Each of the five groups will help an area government or nonprofit work on a problem. Fleisher’s group is helping the St. Louis County Library expand access for justice-involved individuals.

“The library is having a really hard time because there’s so much turnover in the prison system with the people who work there,” Fleisher said. “So they’re entrusting our group in the next few months to try to make meaningful headway. It’s a pretty complex issue, but we’re hoping that there’s one step that we can take as a group if we pool our resources and our connections. That way, we’ll be able to hand it off to the full-time staff at the library at the end, and hopefully, have them feel that it’s benefited them.”

Fleisher hopes that she’ll gain a better sense of her identity as a leader through the project while developing a broader regional awareness of St. Louis. As a teacher of high school students, she often works with them on their leadership qualities but rarely takes the time to focus on her own.

That’s something she can see taking back to her work for the UMSL Bridge Program.

As a precollegiate counselor, Fleisher helps run UMSL’s free college access program, which reaches about 4,000 St. Louis students and families every year. She teaches the 12th grade college preparation seminar and recruits at high schools.

Fleisher has also helped implement a new program, Bridge to the ACT, and make changes to existing programs based on student feedback. She finds seeing that kind of change, which better helps students, to be fulfilling.

“Student feedback changed the program,” she said. “The seniors had been saying, ‘We literally need to do our college applications here. We don’t want to hear about how we should do them and then have to go home and do it.’ So, in this past year, we brought the manager of Scholarship Central, the St. Louis scholarship foundation database, to come meet with the seniors. We had two workshops for a couple hours after Bridge and had the seniors in a computer lab eating pizza and doing their scholarship applications.”

Fleisher came to Bridge about two years ago. Before that she worked as a teacher in New York City for four years but was ready to make a change. Fleisher knew she wanted to be involved in college access but still work directly with students.

Coming back to her hometown of St. Louis and UMSL seemed like a natural fit.

“I don’t think there’s another program in St. Louis like ours,” she said. “It’s open to anybody in the St. Louis area. I think this is a good program for students that are motivated and want to prepare for college with a diverse group of people.”

She enjoys her work with Bridge and sees herself staying and helping the program evolve long-term. That fits with her passion for the program’s mission.

Growing up in St. Louis, Fleisher had taken it for granted that her high school would have resources such as ACT prep classes and guidance counselors. That was before she found herself teaching high school in the Bronx – the poorest congressional district in the U.S.

“It wasn’t until I got to college and met other students who hadn’t had those resources that I realized how it’s not a meritocracy in terms of getting into college and doing well once you’re there,” Fleisher said. “I wanted to use the resources that I’ve been given to help people that might not have those privileges. I find it really rewarding to take what I learned through my college process and empower students to forge their own ways.”

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