Student Leadership Development
March 31, 2014 by Daniel Reichwein
Arthur Ashe, one of the first African-American tennis players, spoke these words –”Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can” – as an activist. At a one-day, personal development seminar held at William & Mary on the 16th, Ashe’s words nicely summarized what we students had learned that day and how simply each of us could become a catalyst—a catalyst for improving our personal lives or a catalyst for improving the world around us.
The Catalyst program, designed for students interested in challenging themselves to go deeper, wider, and further out in their definition of who they are and where they can have an impact, was sponsored by the Office of Student Leadership Development. As a student assistant in the Office of Community Engagement, I spoke with the Director, Drew Stelljes, prior to the event. He was very enthusiastic about it and encouraged me it would be worthwhile, saying:
“The new OSLD has aligned its mission with the William & Mary vision. Theory based, the OSLD is well on its way to becoming a national model for student leadership development. As our W&M vision statement aspires for our graduates to change the world, the OSLD is a mechanism to prepare students to do just that. We aspire to establish a campus culture where students examine their talents and joys and use them to address the world’s greatest needs. There is no better place than W&M to cultivate in students an intense desire to emerge as engaged citizens and effective leaders.”
After a statement like that, what W&M student wouldn’t go? The seminar featured a great speaker, Arthur Gregg, from the University of Texas. There were introspective questions such as, “Am I becoming the person I want to be?” and sapient quotes like Andre Gide’s words, “It’s better to fail at your own life than succeed at someone else’s.” Mr. Gregg spoke about the importance of active listening and appreciative inquiry when interacting with people, authenticity and integrity, and teamwork. He had a felicitous story about teamwork involving a drum major, and ended it by saying, “You can have a band without a drum major, but you can’t have a drum major without a band.” No matter how talented or driven you are, we all have to rely on others at some point. This was a good quote for me personally because as a highly conscientious and dominant introvert (personality traits we formally learned about), I prefer to work by myself so that I know things are done correctly and according to my way of thinking.
Anyone in the business school would have been happy with a second shot at a team-building exercise in which four groups of students worked together to build the tallest free-standing tower that had to hold a golf ball at the top, using only plastic straws and tape. (We business students had to do a similar exercise using marshmallows and spaghetti). Besides learning that the compression strength of a series of plastics straws measuring over six feet in length is pretty low, the importance of group communication, group decision making, prototyping, and personality dynamics were reinforced.
As the day came to an end, we began focusing on what we would take away from the seminar. Leveraging one’s strengths, thinking rationally about what holds us back, and the commitments and contributions we want to make going forward. Words of wisdom from Aristotle himself, “Criticism is something we can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing,” touched on one of the common answers to what holds one back—fear of criticism and failure, but if we allow our lives to be guided by these constraints, we will accomplish nothing. Life is a process. Vulnerability and uncertainty are OK. Do what you know to be best and true for yourself.
Before everyone parted ways, we were asked to write down what we would take away from the seminar or what we would commit to afterwards. You might expect me to write what I wrote down, but what I wrote is unimportant. The words of another student that I had teamed with for some of the activities and discussions were far more inspiring to me. She said that because she had been in a group with a few older students (Tribe PRIME!) who shared their life experiences, she learned that life may not work out the way you plan. You will make mistakes. But, if you have confidence in yourself, in the process and confidence that you’ll figure it out, your life will turn out the way you want.
In retrospect, this was a touching moment for me. I had shared my personal story with my group and talked about the moment when I was being evicted into homelessness: I had no idea where I would sleep that night, but despite the feelings of desperation, anxiety, and loneliness, I told myself that I would figure it out because I had confidence in myself despite everything that happened leading up to this moment. It didn’t happen right away (what happened right away was sleeping in a parking garage, lol), but I did figure it out eventually. I attended this seminar hoping to take something away from it for myself, but instead I gave up something – wisdom and confidence – to other, younger students who took my advice to heart and will use it as they make their own paths in life.
March 28, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
In this entry, Charlotte Mabon, ’15, serves as guest blogger. Below is her reflection from a recent Community Engagement Lunch Discussion.
2002 William & Mary graduate Abbitt Woodall is now the director of a local non-profit agency called Housing Partnership Inc. Located right in Williamsburg, HPI uses state and local government funds to provide essential housing repair services to low-income families and individuals in the Williamsburg community. These housing services include emergency home repairs, home modifications for persons with disabilities, entire home replacements, as well as indoor plumbing projects. Their clientele mostly consists of individuals and families that are elderly, disabled, and make roughly about $12,000 a year. A major focus of his work though, revolves around a need that most people in the United States take for granted: indoor plumbing. Most individuals may think that in this day and age, adequate and sanitary indoor plumbing is a luxury afforded to all. In the US today over 670,000 US households are in fact, without indoor plumbing.
Access to adequate indoor plumbing is something that not all possess, and this particular problem is right in our backyard. Since they began in 2005, Woodall and the HPI team have repaired over 80 houses in the Greater Williamsburg area that lacked indoor plumbing. Overall, HPI has invested about $3.5 million, with each individual housing repair estimating at $700. But it is important to note that costs can change depending the repairs needed to be done – some repairs may cost less or substantially more. Again, when people think about communities that lack proper indoor plumbing, the mind tends to go to rural, backwoods areas. Though these areas in Virginia are in need of indoor plumbing repairs, Woodall stressed that homes lacking indoor plumbing and proper septic systems can be found in both suburban and urban areas.
Houses in the Williamsburg area that lack indoor plumbing or have poorly constructed septic systems that fail, are built on areas of land with poor soil. Most of the houses HPI repairs include elderly clientele that had service-industry jobs before they retired. But with most service-industry jobs, the ability to afford housing on land with “good” soil is difficult to find at an affordable price – the poorer the soil, the cheaper the property. HPI’s elderly clientele also typically lack the incentives, ability, and finances to move from an older house that may not have the best septic system, to a new one that does. Moving to have a better toilet can remain low on a list filled with other priorities. Even with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, it can still be difficult to get by financially, making housing repairs that much more costly.
Inadequate indoor plumbing is rarely if ever, a hot-topic issue when discussing social injustices. One can argue that there tends to be a hierarchy of social issues, with some receiving more attention than others. This can be caused by the nature of the topic itself, the political charge behind the topic, and social standing of affected communities within a specific social issue. Essentially, it can be difficult to see a problem if one is not faced with it. Most of us have access to both public and private restrooms, and it can be hard to get out and see the sheer size of Williamsburg as a college-student. Williamsburg is a city that extends far beyond the Sunken Garden and The Cheese Shop. But if you take the time and look past the manicured lawns of CW, poverty in Williamsburg does in fact exist. The need is there and as part of the Williamsburg community, it is crucial we recognize our fortunate position to help. If looking for a chance to enable members of the Williamsburg community with better access to an essential need, HPI is the perfect place to start.
March 5, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
Last week I was asked to speak to the new members of social fraternities at W&M. It was an honor I took seriously. I wrote the following speech and hope it serves as a guide for a few other people as they contemplate their role in community.
There are dozens of lists that declare an array of benefits to being in a fraternity. I bet you’ve read a few, and definitely heard about several over the past few months and maybe years. They include:
- Leadership Opportunities
- Higher GPAs
- Community Service
- Greeks Are More Likely to Graduate
- Career Networking
- More Interaction With Faculty
- Improved Interpersonal Skills
- Built-In Sports Team
- Practice Your Interview Skills
- Some of the Most Successful People Are Greek
These all may have some correlation to Greek life, but it’s a lot harder to determine causality, especially the past 20-30 years or so. As we examine the list more closely, just about every benefit can also be found elsewhere on a college campus: leadership opportunities, service, intramurals, practice interview skills, talk with faculty, good GPA, etc. All of these attributes or accomplishments are completely feasible without membership in a fraternity. Further, the claim to fame about how successful people are Greek, begs the question of correlation or causality. Was it the fraternity that developed your determination to succeed or was it already a part of your DNA? Not sure.
So, as I pick apart supposed benefits, not for the sake of tearing down the system which I think so highly of, but rather to dig into what really sustains Greek life over hundreds of years and the evolution of the college experience, we’ve got to more carefully assess why fraternities continue to thrive on college campuses. Here’s my theory—one person, one brother, one perspective.
You consider rushing for one of a few reasons: (1) a friend encourages you to try it and the fact that someone else wants you to join them, feels good. (2) You want to join because, membership is one of the college must do’s. (3) You’d probably regret it if you didn’t join. So you join and it’s great – for a while. The new car shine wears off though, the chapter isn’t perfect, you notice the faults of individuals and maybe even of the chapter. But, you persist. It’s at this time the evolution from membership to brotherhood starts. You’ve put in some effort and you decide to stick it out. Aha! This is where the brotherhood can take hold. Cause now you’ve made the decision to remain part of the family even though you realize the family isn’t perfect. Every family has an uncle who can’t get it together, an aunt who fails at a lot of stuff, a parent who prioritizes the wrong thing, etc. But, you stick it out, cause you’re family. So you call yourself brother and you see your fellow brothers be good and funny and smart. And—you witness him being an idiot and a fool and drunk . But, he’s your family. So you stick with it.
And then, in your bravest moment, maybe in your entire college career, you stand up for your chapter. You re-read your ritual or your core values, For God and Women, Honor, Loyalty, and you muster up the courage to call out a brother for acting the fool. Or you prod the entire brotherhood toward being better than they are in current form. A non Greek calls out the faults of the system and instead of blowing him off, you fight back because you know, in your heart, while the system isn’t perfect, the process has been good to you. It’s then that you earn that title of lifelong member. It’s then that you really believe—this is for keeps.
For me, being courageous was so tough. I was intimidated by my older peers who were more articulate than I was. They commanded a presence in chapter meetings and they were funnier than me around the house. It took me a while to evolve from guest to brother – in my own head. Really all of my brothers accepted me early on. Took me longer to realize they accepted me!
Anyway, I was moved by our ritual, feeling a sense of spirituality I hadn’t before. I was surprised by the significance our founders placed on deep and quiet reflection. Still, I didn’t really fully come into brotherhood til I stood up for those values. I remember, one evening in 1995 like it was yesterday. I was planning on standing up at the end of meeting when there was open mic, to implore our brotherhood to remain true to values our founders wrote about. I was scared. Shaking. Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Trembling a bit. I had rehearsed my speech. No one knew a speech was coming. I stood upon getting the ok from the chapter president and I spoke. I told my brothers how I wanted our chapter to be open to diverse opinions and how everyone should have voice, not the chosen few and the charismatic or funny others. I was still so scared, afraid of ridicule. As good as we could be to one another, one false phrase could become your nickname for life. I kept going though. We must be the ritual, live it, and model it. Not merely reciting the words that we hold sacred, but living it through our actions. We wore our letters a lot. We needed to hold them as sacred. Reminders to all not that we belonged to an exclusive club but that the letter stood for something greater than our one self. We’d made a pledge to be honorable, chivalric, and to live with integrity. We vowed to be future focused and to seek elders to help us seek our path. I was so afraid of being ridiculed, but I continued. I told the brothers how much I believed in the chapter and that the long meetings, the disagreements, the debates over who to admit, were worth it, so long as we stayed the course. I concluded with a rally cry of some sort and, as I sat down and slunk in my seat—the brothers applauded. Whew. They do like me, I thought. I was vulnerable, I was brave and they were ok with it. That’s the night I earned brotherhood. The family accepted me.
Now, in a fraternity, one decent speech, made at the right time, can earn you leadership positions! So I accepted a few over the next several years and I learned a ton about myself.
I learned that I most enjoy creating new things. I like to think about the future and how, a new project might make the system better for the next generation. I learned that I liked to hear brothers tell me about themselves one on one and not in large groups. I became better at asking questions and answering questions with some depth as pledges were required to interview every brother. I learned that none of us are perfect, far from it, and it’s ok to see someone in a bad place and then praise him next week for doing something good. I learned forgiveness—slowly and with a few chances to practice. And mostly, I learned to say goodbye to a good friend. In my chapter I grieved for the first time. During my senior my friend and brother Keith was murdered in his apartment. As soon as we all heard we ran – literally to the fraternity house and we hugged, we cried. We hit the walls. And then, some of us prayed. We prayed so loudly on the front porch I bet you could hear us across the street. Well, that’s how it sounded to me in that circle of brotherhood. Brad, our prayer leader that night became an awesome minister. He was doing some vocational discernment on the porch that night. After we prayed, we sat in silence and just like in ritual we went back to deep reflection. We’d never been in this place, but we were not entirely uncomfortable. We’d done this before. Ritual gave us the framework when we would need it most. In time, we healed mostly from Keith’s death. Last month a handful of us completed our fundraising effort for a scholarship in Keith’s honor. So, he’s still with us. His memory remains. He is our brother. And we are family.
So, the top 5’s and 10’s lists about benefits of Greek life, on the surface, sure they are not incorrect, but they don’t distinguish Greek life from college life.
Interaction With Faculty
Improved Interpersonal Skills
Practice Your Interview Skills
You’ll find these on any residential campus these days. So, here’s my top’s list. Brotherhood affords you the chance to:
- Live ritual
- Reflect on what you want in life
- Over time, coming to admire individuals for their unique strengths
- Over time, learning how to support brothers who fall down
- Have a family- a crazy family, but a real family and
- To, in short time, evolve from the kid to the dad to the granddad of the family
- And becoming a brother in a fraternity happens when you become brave, standing up for what the group could become and being accepted for your bravery
I hope you will feel welcomed into the brotherhood. Earn your keep by being brave when your family needs you most.
March 4, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
In this blog entry, Kendall Lorenzen, a junior at W&M serves as guest blogger. Below is the script from the speech she gave at the annual Junior Ring Ceremony.
I love everything that the Charter of the College of William & Mary represents. It is our origin story. It is our connection. It is the document that spurred the 321 year long chain of events that have brought us here together today.
It is in a word—astounding. However I will say looking at the 321 year old script of the Charter initially I couldn’t help but be amazed for a slightly different reason. The Charter began so incredibly simple.
Our Charter lays out the foundation for a university with one President, six professors, and one hundred students more or less. I can’t help but wonder what King William and Queen Mary would think after seeing our campus today. What we have today, THIS was not even a dream in 1693. The College had humble beginnings.
This makes me think of our first experiences here at William & Mary. Our first walk through Wren together as a class, our first forced mixer with another hall, our hurrication. I think about the expectations I had as I stood with strangers waiting to get the key to my room in Jefferson—the strangers that I now consider great friends.
I thought all I would be getting from my fours at William & Mary would be an education. But looking back today-I already know I have gotten so much more than that. I came into William & Mary with humble expectations. But being here with you all has taught me so much more than what I could ever have learned in a classroom. Coming into college I knew I could study, but I didn’t think I could really do anything more than that. But here, from you I learned I had the ability to make a difference and to inspire those around me.
Being here has taught me how powerful we all have the potential to be just by being in each others lives. At William & Mary, we have the most incredible people around us. Sitting next to us in lecture, living right down the hall, or even in the very same room. What defines William & Mary is not just the acceptance of the individual, but the celebration of the individual. We have the ability to be phenomenal leaders and WE have inspiration all around us and within us. How many of you have been inspired by someone in this room or here at the College? And how many of you have told them that?
We all have incredible power. If you do not know how inspiring you are or that you have an amazing ability to make positive change, just think about all of the people who didn’t raise their hands. William & Mary has amazing professors, research opportunities, but perhaps the best thing about William & Mary is that it has brought us together so that we can be inspired by one another and go out into the world and community to do unbelievable things.
I have a lot of goals for the remainder of my time here at the College, but at the top of my list is to be engaged everyday; in my classes, with my peers, and with everything I do—because when I came into college I knew how to study. We all knew how to study, but by being engaged we have the ability to truly learn from all the fantastic people around us. It is a simple idea. But by engaging in these William & Mary networks, like the Class of 2015, we have become a part of something great. Just as the alumni before us have learned, we have the ability to innovate and inspire.
Looking back at the Charter today and looking back at those initial moments when we first came to the College, I see that nothing was ever really simple. It was innovative. It was the start of something that neither we nor King William and Queen Mary could have ever imagined. We are connected now and forever to something great that will always be bigger than ourselves. Look at the rings now that you have just received. Let the rings serve as a reminder of each other and the tradition of service that we will always be bound to. All you can really do going into our last three semesters is to embrace your strengths and live authentically. Never underestimate the power of a thank you or the power of telling a classmate just how incredible they are. And I want to tell you all here today—you are amazing and I can’t wait to see the things you do in your final semesters at the College and in the world.
February 25, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
2013, my first complete year at William & Mary. Time really does fly by when you are having fun.
2013 was a busy one making many new friends, and countless memories. One of the best choices I have made here at W&M was pledging a social fraternity. I was able to participate in the Student Leadership Foundation and took some of my favorite classes of all time (make sure to snag a seat in American Politics, Emerging Diseases, or African American History since 1710).
The spring in Williamsburg is the epitome of ideal temperatures so it didn’t get better than giving a tour or playing croquet with the W&M Croquet Club. I also interned at the admission office last spring semester as well, which was an amazing experience. Going to the Day For Admitted Students was one of my favorite memories as an admitted student before actually coming to William & Mary, so it was awesome to be able to help plan the day for the Class of 2017.
Over Spring Break, I tagged along on my dad’s business trip to Portland. It was my first time traveling to the west coast. Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time made this one of my most memorable trips. I also went skiing for the first time in my entire life. While my dad and his colleagues went skiing down black diamond slopes all day, I impressed two five year olds who were learning to ski with me on the bunny slope. After coming back to W&M, my sister swung by Williamsburg for Easter weekend and I was able to show her around, introduce her to my friends, and take her to the church I attend here in Williamsburg.
After the spring semester ended, I headed home to Northern Virginia for the summer. I interned with the American Wood Council, which is the national trade association for the wood products industry. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. You will find out that although college summers are long and fun, by the end you will be excited to return to William & Mary to see all of your friends and get back in the swing of things. Highlights from fall of 2013 include welcoming the Class of 2017 during Convocation and Homecoming week. It was great to see alums return to their alma mater and cheer on the Tribe. Nothing puts you in the spirit of the Tribe better than pulling out a win for the Homecoming game.
I finished the semester off with the Yule Log ceremony. Throwing that sprig of holly on the fire and seeing President Reveley dressed up like Santa is a memorable experience! As the year came to a close, with finals behind me and the start of fresh new semester not too far in the near future, I realized that maybe ’13 was a luckier number than I had originally thought.
- Mark Bland
October 28, 2013 by Melody Porter
Branch Out held a Homecoming reception this weekend to welcome back alumni who participated in alternative breaks while they were here. It was quite a crowd, with people buzzing in from all over the world. Some of those I talked to had come from places as far away as Ireland, San Diego and Tanzania recently.
One student director alumna is working with migrant workers in North Carolina, developing education sessions on health and safety practices to share with them to mitigate the high risks they face in their labors. Another alumnus is studying for his master’s in higher education, and continues to be involved in alternative breaks – no longer as a site leader, but as an adviser. One former site leader talked about her work, which isn’t quite in the field she wants to be in, but she is busy finding ways to connect her experience in environmental sustainability to what she does. Another alumnus, who is now a community partner for one of our national trips, told me about his meeting earlier that day with the site leaders he’ll be working with this March. And one alumna wasn’t part of our program but stopped by to tell us about her recent time in East Africa, and to see about ways that she could support our two international alternative breaks that go to countries where Swahili is spoken.
The vision of Branch Out alternative breaks is to create a community of active and educational individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice. Throughout the year, I see this happening in different ways. I see it when our site leaders gather and work together to develop trips that will support community-driven work for social change. I see it when participants on a trip laugh together over simple meals eaten in community center basements, and later struggle together in reflection about how to tutor better tomorrow. And last night, I saw how this community continues even when it is dispersed across the world, as breakers who continue to live out their unique commitments to social justice met up with current program leaders and participants who welcomed them back with gracious hospitality, eager to hear their stories and glimpse into their futures as active citizens.
August 22, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Day after day I am bombarded with news about wars raging, violence ensuing, natural resources depleting and crises destroying lives of millions of people. I sit on the metro, tears welling in my eyes, feeling so small in a world that is consumed by distress. I stay up late nights making sketches of solutions to these problems consistently met with challenges; lack of resources, connections, people, and mostly, time. How do you effect change if you are just one single person in a sea of thousands?
- Recognize that the hero’s of our world didn’t get there by chance. They didn’t make a name for themselves by passively sitting down and waiting for the next big thing to happen. Maybe there was a stroke of luck, but they rose to the challenge. They saw an opportunity and they chased it. I am inspired by those people who recognize an issue, understand that they are only one person, but work to mobilize groups – sometimes thousands – for a cause they believe in. You might only be one person, but you are one person with a voice.
- Set yourself aside. The human mind only has a capacity to empathize with a select population of people, but empathy can also be created and bred through experience. It is easier said than done to pick up your life and go move to a place where you can experience poverty, turmoil and conflict. I’m not asking you to do that. Instead, think about what people in these situations are feeling. Try to imagine what it would feel like to come home to a house where your family was victim to a chemical weapons attack… you step over the bodies of the people you love most in this world, realizing with each passing moment that every single one of them is dead. Put yourself in the shoes of a rebel fighter struggling with every thing that he or she has for a peace that they may never know. Picture yourself walking for days to seek refuge in a neighboring country with a single bag of belongings, knowing that you may never be able to return home. The process of learning to empathize will create a deep passion to bring about change that will continue to motivate in the toughest times.
- Understand that the news is subjective. As consumers of the media, we have a responsibility to deduce truth, and form opinion based on our most objective interpretation. The goal of the media is to solicit a response – whether negatively or positively – to a situation. And while we like to think that the news is entirely objective, like any private corporation, these agencies need to stay in business which means they have to “sell” the news. Stop and think about it. The day that the Washington Post reported that a drought was killing and displacing thousands of people in Somalia, Casey Anthony was on the front page*. This should tell you something about the priorities of the news.
- Finally, BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN. The thought of becoming jaded horrifies me, which is why I will continue to write blogs like this to remind myself that we are all capable of perpetuating good in this world. If we all became cynical about our ability to create change, no one would ever get anything done. There are millions of people who work long days and dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. To those individuals, I solute you.
If you take away one thing from this message, it is that you have great opportunity to make a difference. You can be the change. You can be the inspiration. The hope. The reminder of good. The positive light in the darkest places. Don’t ever forget that…
July 26, 2013 by Drew Stelljes
Colin Danly, a junior at William & Mary, provides a guest blog. The blog is written in the form of a speech he would give to incoming freshmen at the College.
Welcome class of 2030!
It fills me with great pride to be able to speak with you all today. My time here was a transformative period of my life. I came into college certain that I had my whole life figured out. I was going to double major in government and history, and then I was going to go to law school, and finally, take over the world. My plans for world domination did not survive my first battle with Banner. Banner barred me from every history class. (Coincidentally, my plans did not survive my next five battles with Banner, but that is a story for another time.) I was devastated. My perfectly manicured plan no longer was possible. I placed such a high importance on my plan; I thought it was the only avenue for success. Life teaches you to be flexible; the path you once thought you were predestined for may close unexpectedly. The ones who are successful in life are those who learn to adapt and overcome unexpected obstacles.
As is customary in officious speeches such as this, I would like to recite an anecdote from my youth. While I was still in high school, my priest delivered a homily recounting his experience at the funeral of an old man. The man who had passed away had lived in my hometown for over thirty years and had a close connection to the church. My priest presided over the funeral and knew the family quite well. After the funeral, the priest went up to the man’s son. The priest wanted to know what the son’s favorite memory of his father was. The son replied that during his childhood his father would stop each of his children before they left for the day and tell them, “Don’t forget your name out there.” The son had never really given much thought to this ritual before his father began to die. He realized that after all these years his father was not reminding him of his first name, but of his last.
This is one of my favorite stories, and it drastically shaped my outlook on life. Much like the son, I heard what the priest said, but it took me a long time to really understand the distinction between first and last names. As I got older, this distinction became more apparent to me. In our youth, our default setting is to see the world from an egocentric point of view. Very rarely do children think about themselves as part of a larger group. We sometimes forget that our last names are just as important as our first names. I don’t mean last names in the traditional sense; last names are more than words on your birth certificate. Last names embody all groups or institutions you are a part of, beyond those who share your name. For example, my name as printed on my birth certificate is Colin David Danly. To me, my last name is Danly from the Danly family, from Lake Forest, Illinois, alum of the College of William & Mary, citizen of the United States, and member of the global community. Every time I get up in the morning, I represent each of these groups by my actions and interactions with other people.
You all have just joined an illustrious line and can now add the College of William & Mary to your ever-growing last name. With this addition comes a new burden of responsibility to those who share this last name. Go make us proud and respect those who have joined your family, as if they were your blood. I wish you all the luck in the world. These next four years are not the best of your life. They are the beginning. Go forth, and do not forget your name out there.
June 27, 2013 by Arvin Alaigh
In my last post, I began summarizing my favorite site visits that our Leadership & Community Engagement Institute took during our two week class. Below, I have listed and described four more standout visits.
5. Perhaps one of our most resonating visits came Mike Powell, the son of former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. He opened by sharing his life story with us, beginning with his humble beginnings as a TWAMP (Class of 1985) – a Government major, Yates resident, ROTC cadet and involved student. He continued regaling us with anecdotes from his military career that was unfortunately cut short in an automobile accident while stationed in Germany. Because of the accident, he endured not only an incomprehensible amount of physical pain (he spent a year in the hospital rehabilitating), but emotional pain. Since he was young, he had been working towards a career in the military and following in his father’s footsteps, but his circumstances forced him to change his life’s direction and give up on his dream. These trying times taught Mike to persevere through hardships and redefine success as an attainable end. Following his departure from the military, he tried his hand (and succeeded) in seemingly everything, having attended Georgetown University Law Center, serving a clerk for the DC Court of Appeals, a private attorney and in the Justice Department… not to mention a stint as an advisor to the Department of Defense. He eventually ended up working in the field of communications, serving as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2001-05, and currently the President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Mike shared insight on his principle-driven leadership style, which is highlighted by his ten core pillars that shape himself and how he leads. He sees them as sacred and unique to every person – so much so, that he refuses to share his own with anybody. To Mike, the contents of one’s character reign paramount when assessing a leader, and their importance cannot ever be understated. The lecture itself was so captivating that by the end of it, I could not believe an hour and a half and elapsed. His stories, life experiences and advice took the shape of a motivational leadership seminar, and they truly inspired every person listening.
6. In terms of community engagement, DC Central Kitchens is likely the organization that is most directly impacting tangible change. We first met with Chief Executive Officer Mike Curtin, who chronicled a brief history of the organization, along with logistical information on how it is run. First and foremost, Mike made it clear that DCCK is not a soup kitchen. Instead, it distributes food to various soup kitchens and shelters around the District; but its primary purpose is to mobilize otherwise underserved individuals into the workforce. Through a training program that lasts several months, DCCK trains individuals to work in the foodservice industry. After they graduate from the program, the Kitchens will hire these individuals and provide them with a living wage and help them find housing in order to be self-sustaining. They will cook and prepare food that in turn goes out to various places, including soup kitchens, shelters, and as of late, to schools in the District. Throughout his presentation, Mike Curtin was very expressive about the role of his organization in providing opportunities for DC residents. He passionately averred that society had forsaken these individuals, and amidst the inefficiency and inaction of Washington bureaucracy, real people were suffering dire consequences. I thought it was particularly interesting when Mike said that DC Central Kitchens will have been considered successful when it can no longer stay open – it is not often that an organization sets out to go out of business and have its services no longer needed. Though its scope may not be as grand as MCC or Aspen (yet), there is no doubt that DCCK plays an incredibly important role in the lives of many underserved individuals, providing them with a venue to turn their lives around and find success.
7. Penelope Spain was one of only two site visits that actually came to visit us at the William & Mary DC office. She has her background in law, having attended Washington College of Law and graduating in 2005. While in law school, Penelope started a club that allowed students to go to a local detention center, and from this emerged Mentoring Today. She chronicled the organization’s beginnings as a group at WCL dedicated to helping incarcerated youth get reassimilated into society – though it remains small (there are 3 full-time employees), the organization has garnered a fair amount of attention and recognition within the DC/Maryland community. She shared with us the intimate inner-workings of Mentoring Today, shedding light on how she runs a nonprofit with such small overhead. Though she has run into her fair share of hardships, she has remained unwavering in her mission to helping the oft-forgotten youth, providing them with the stable figures that have usually been absent in their lives. I loved her passion and drive, along with her do-it-yourself mentality that inspired her to start her own organization – for these reasons, Penelope was one of my favorites of our site visits.
8. William & Mary/Teach For America alumna/Anacostia High School teacher Lauren Sterner marked the final of our site visits, and in my opinion, it was the most profound. It was the only visit in which we got a firsthand view at a community engager in action. We sat in on two sections of Ms. Sterner’s 9th grade English class, and though not every student seemed engaged in curriculum, she did a phenomenal job in captivating the attention of many. Despite a gentrification project that the school has been undertaking for the past few years, the district is still poorly funded – prior to starting her first class, Ms. Sterner explained that several English teachers would be cut due to budgetary restrictions. We witnessed even other poignant examples of this underfunding during the class itself, from the outdated textbooks that were being used (some were even older than the students themselves), to Ms. Sterner’s announcement to the students that the classroom was out of paper. I view individuals like Lauren as champions of education. Despite having other opportunities, both in profession and in location, she chooses to serve those students who need it and can benefit the most, and I find this admirable to the utmost extent. As someone who has a general interest in education, I was inspired and motivated by seeing Lauren in action. Ideally, we would have gotten to speak to her for longer but this site visit nonetheless impacted our class greatly.
As I stated in my previous posts, our two week class was not a William & Mary class in a traditional sense. Sure, we had our fair share of readings, discussions, lectures and writing assignments, but we still found time to visit many outstanding organizations/individuals all around DC. At times, it seemed overwhelming, considering the sheer amount of people and places we visited; nevertheless, I am very thankful to have gained that kind of experience. Perhaps the most enriching part of the two weeks came in the form of exposure. We saw all the shapes and forms that engagement could manifest itself in, from working in international development, to the government, to the classroom. We all learned that there are countless ways to affect positive change within the community, and as leaders, we ought to follow our own path, find our niche, and excel.
June 5, 2013 by Arvin Alaigh
Before getting into the meat of this next entry, I would like to formally redact a statement that I issued in my last blog post. If my memory serves me correctly, I listed “eating Buffalo Wild Wings” as one of my hobbies – it is with a heavy heart (and most likely clogged arteries) that I must announce, as of Thursday, May 23rd, Buffalo Wild Wings and myself have decided to go our separate ways. Though we certainly had our fun over the past few years, it is time that our relationship must meet its end. You are undoubtedly asking yourselves how a holy union could possibly end so abruptly… Well allow me to be your muse.
I, Arvin Alaigh, have been a buffalo wing enthusiast for as long as I can remember. This particular Thursday, I was entranced by the temptation of 60-cent/wing night, so much so that earlier this day, I made the conscious decision of eating a light lunch. As a result, I was understandably famished by the time we finally headed to BWW around 7 PM. Once there I absolutely crushed my twelve boneless hot wings in about six minutes flat, scarfing them down with a tangible intensity that still haunts me today. This proved to be my ultimate undoing. The events that followed this “meal” were excruciatingly painful. Apparently, the Buffalo Wild Wings hot sauce has a corrosive property unbeknownst to most customers – I had the privilege of experiencing this firsthand. For the next few hours, I could feel my stomach and intestines slowly incinerating at the hands of this seemingly poisonous liquid. I spent the rest of the evening grimacing about in bed, chugging Pepto-Bismol, watching reruns of The OC on my computer and begging to God for mercy. I still felt aftershocks of my chicken wings the morning after, and it was then that I made the executive decision to sever ties with the restaurant. I acknowledge that I cannot blame anyone else for my misgivings, and I assume full responsibility for all events that transpired.
My first two weeks in Washington were mentally and physically exhausting, but in the most rewarding way possible. The Leadership & Community Engagement class consisted primarily of lectures, discussions and site visits. Though there was no set daily schedule, our activities fell between about 9 AM – 4 PM every day – the bulk of this time was spent visiting various individuals around the District. We ended up having eighteen site visits, most of which consisted of individuals representing their respective organizations in the nonprofit and/or political sectors. I could individually chronicle each detail of every site visit, but I feel that may be somewhat monotonous, and my goal with this blog is to secure my readers’ interests. For this reason, I’ll break down my top eight site visits (in no particular order) accompanied by brief descriptions –
1. Class of 1975 alumna Karen Schultz was our first visit of the Institute, and undoubtedly she was one of the class’s favorites. Her political career was highlighted by the hotly contested race for the 27th District of Virginia in November of 2007. Though she ended up losing in a widely controversial fight, she gained much insight and expertise on how elections are run, much of which she shared with our class. But in my opinion, the most appealing aspect of Ms. Schultz was her authenticity and genuineness; frankly, she was one of the nicest, most sincere individuals with whom we had met. She has also been a faculty member at Shenandoah University since 1981, having served as the Director of the Institute for Government and Public Service at the university since 2009.
2. Mike Henry is currently the Chief of Staff for Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, whose primary expertise lies in managing campaigns, boasts an impressive resume with a wealth of experience in local, state, federal and even presidential elections. In addition to this, he also worked with the ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to ending extreme poverty around the world. Mike was relatively soft-spoken, yet he captivated the class with stories from his days managing campaigns, comparing them to his time at ONE. He also shared valuable insight on effective leadership qualities, speaking at length to Senator Kaine’s abilities as a leader and an effective agent of change.
3. We met with Mickey Bergmen of the Aspen Institute on the third day of our site visits. He is the Executive Director of the Global Alliances program at the Aspen Institute, which serves as “the Institute’s expert platform for establishing and implementing partnerships between the Aspen Institute, US government and public offices, the US private sector, and local counterparts and communities throughout the world.” His work specifically deals with promoting private-sector relationships as a means of assisting relationships between nations with little diplomatic interactions, such as Israel and Palestine. He quickly won over our class with his kind and jovial nature, captivating us with many stories from his adventures facilitating diplomacy around the world. My personal favorite set of anecdotes was regarding his January visit to North Korea – he explained the dynamic of the government and its officials, and told several humanizing stories of people with whom he had met. He pointed out how Western society tends to villainize North Koreans, but his interactions with them showed that they were ordinary people, just like us. This was a theme throughout all of Mickey’s anecdotes – though we have our emotional differences propagated by our respective individual identities, at the end of the day, we are all humans. Regardless of whether we’re Israeli, Palestinian, North Korean, Russian or American, we will laugh, cry and emote, and it was refreshing to see Mickey’s candor in discussing this. In summary, Aspen was a phenomenal site visit. Though I am not particularly interested in mediating foreign relations, Mickey’s personability and knowledge made it one of the most captivating and enjoyable site visits of the two weeks.
4. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a foreign aid agency that was first commissioned by Congress in 2004, so it is still relatively new. Essentially, it distributes very large sums of money (usually in the hundreds of millions of dollars) to developing countries over a certain period of time. A nation’s eligibility is determined by its score on 17 different indicators under three categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, Economic Freedom. These indicators are compiled by outside parties, such as Freedom House, World Bank Institute, and World Health Organization. As for the site visit itself, it differed greatly from any other that we had – as we entered the office, we were greeted with an array of national flags and portraits of world leaders. Immediately, I felt a certain energy about the office; MCC’s staffers seem to don a motivated, professional aura that was especially fitting for such champions of international development. Our presenters were informative in detailing the specifics of MCC compacts, going in depth on the protocol of how they are granted and implemented. Though it lacked the personable quality that made Mickey and Karen special, we still loved MCC and its work. We witnessed an organization truly excel at what it set out to do – that is, to effectively distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Out of all of the sites our class visited, I believe that MCC objectively operated on the grandest scale, and as a result generated the greatest number of tangible results for those in need. I feel that their work environment was representative of how the organization itself ran – with great professionalism, efficiency, and aplomb.
Okay because this is a lot longer than I anticipated (and I’m not sure I want this post to be >2000 words), I will post my next four site visits as well as some reflections on my next entry.
~~STAY TUNED ~~