This January, Smith students traveled to the LeaderShape Institute at the YMCA’s Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md., where they participated in a dynamic learning environment composed of both in-class learning and hands-on activities. Students emerged inspired with refined visions of leadership, a sense of value, and, most importantly, a community of more than 60 students and faculty that share their same goals and dreams.
This is the second year the Robert H. Smith School of Business hosted the LeaderShape Institute, which is hosted 80 times a year at various colleges and universities nationwide. This year, the program had more than 200 applicants.
LeaderShape Institute is “a leap of faith,” according to program coordinator Jason DeSanto Jones, during which students are encouraged to be vulnerable and open their minds to the possibilities ahead. “You have to take the first step in order to achieve great things. It’s giving them the courage to think beyond the boundaries of possibility. It’s eliminating that mental barrier so that you can start thinking beyond that, and that’s how you make a larger impact,” he said.
The students initially formed “family clusters,” or small groups, and worked on building community, the theme of Day 1. Each day of LeaderShape had a different theme, working from self-awareness and understanding passions to how that identity affects leadership style, team dynamics, and eventually strategizing a vision statement.
For junior finance and information systems major Nicholas Campanella, that vision was helping students in high school become more financially literate. “Throughout the week we developed that vision and paved out the steps on how we were going to make that happen and how we could make a change in the world,” he said.
The program not only developed leadership skills, it challenged the traditional stereotype of leadership, offering inspiration for all personality types and capacities of leadership.
Sophomore finance major Shriya Gupta realized, “Not everyone has a dominating personality that I sometimes associated with leadership,” Gupta said. “Anyone with passion and drive can be a leader.”
Throughout the journey students learned how their personal passions intersected.
“This leadership retreat is not all about the politics of leadership, how to get ahead and how to line your pocketbook, said DeSanto Jones, “It’s about learning about each other and understanding you really can’t be an effective leader without existing and embracing the community that’s around you.”
The importance of community was one of the biggest takeaways Campanella reflected on: “It’s just great to have a new network of people to rely on,” he said. “I met people who had similar visions to mine, so it was great we could connect and form a bond over that.”
For freshman finance major Daniel Ogunlow, the first step in realizing his vision to provide quality education worldwide, was to start spreading the word through blogging and social media, as well as raising funds to eventually start a school in a developing country.
“We have a role in society to play and we have to play that role as a corporation, as a business or as an individual,” he said. “No matter how big your dream is or how big your vision is, it can be accomplished. No matter how daunting or intimidating it might be, it definitely can be accomplished.”
At the end of the six-day program, the staff creates what is called, “Day 7,” which refers to anything after the LeaderShape Institute, and helps students stay in action and maintain the connections they made.
Erica Bonelli, intern, Office of Marketing Communications