Initiative aims to make leaders out of 25 students

By Stephanie Xiao

The University’s new Student Leadership Institute (SLI) is poised to begin its first workshops for the students who successfully applied for its services, ending months of planning that began before the start of the school year.

At its kick-off event over the first weekend of winter quarter, 25 first-, second-, and third-year students traveled to the Outdoor Wisconsin Leadership School near Lake Geneva, WI, joined by fourth-year facilitators and members of the SLI’s planning committee.

Through spring quarter there will be biweekly workshops and lectures at the Alumni House by professionals and alumni, alternating with media components, reading assignments, and trips to Chicago-based organizations, culminating in a final project of each student’s own design that must have a measurable impact on campus or in the neighborhoods surrounding it.

The general curriculum will focus on developing leadership skills in the workplace, adaptability, emotional intelligence, decision-making, group dynamics, and entrepreneurship, according to Student Activities Resource Adviser Ravi Randhava.

Initial student reactions to proposals for the program last quarter were mixed. Students felt that the Institute would cater mostly to students who needed its services least, such as those who already lead RSOs and have a presence in the campus community; the fact that the SLI would rely on a competitive application process deepened this concern. Additionally, the SLI’s actual purpose and execution were regarded as vague.

As an Orientation Leader this year, second-year SG representative Melissa Chanthalangsy heard preliminary proposals about the Institute before the start of the school year.

“A suggestion was made [that the SLI should] target students who needed the tools to build leadership skills—not students who already have them and are implementing them in their RSOs and daily life everyday,” Chanthalangsy wrote in an email last October. “[As of then], it’s just another one of those leadership programs geared toward students who are already in tune with leadership opportunities.”

The planning committee corrected its course, however, in time for the start of winter quarter.

“We felt from Orientation on that we wanted to consult with students to get feedback on the process,” Daugherty said. “We didn’t want it to just be a teaching curriculum; we wanted it to be more engaged…overcoming the theory-practice divide and creating a program that did both with real people.”

Only 25 students were selected for participation in this year’s pilot program out of more than 100 applications, but the leaders of SLI want to expand the program across a broader portion of the student body in the future, according to Randhava.

“I’m looking forward to hearing how students evaluate this pilot program,” Daugherty said.

Current SLI members view the pilot as an opportunity “to help improve it for next year,” first-year and member Devansh Parasrampuria said.

Older students in the Institute have similar opinions.

“As a third-year, I have a lot of opportunities to mold the program and give input into what I want out of the program,” Vivien Sin said.

First-year Student Government representative Raymond Dong believes that, despite being in its early stages, the program has the potential to benefit the entire College once members apply the skills they learn on campus.

“All the people who take part will definitely grow in terms of leadership capabilities, and that is always very positive for a community,” Dong said. “It’s still in its infancy, but I think it’s on the right track.”