As the Leadership University, East Carolina is committed to developing each individual student’s leadership potential. And for the 25 East Carolina students who participated in this summer’s inaugural Student Leadership Summit from July 22–25, that commitment was evident.
Students spent part of the Student Leadership Summit on ECU's Challenge Course where they put their leadership skills into action.
Presented by the Center for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement, Student Activities and Organizations, and with support from administrative leaders in the Office of Student Affairs, the three-day summit offered elected officers from 15 ECU student organizations the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge required to successfully lead a student organization.
The summit is a reflection of the university’s realization of the difference between holding a leadership position and truly being a leader. With the help of workshops, team-building activities, and mentoring from ECU and community leaders, the summit helped ensure that ECU’s leaders are ready for their responsibilities.
“One of the things we hear a lot from our students is that they come into these leadership positions and they don’t feel like they are necessarily prepared for them,” said Austin Robey, assistant director for organization development for Student Activities and Organizations. “We are asking these students to come in and lead groups of 60 or 70 people with no real preparation. So one of our goals with the summit was to bring in new leaders, new officers, and give them some tips and some support and let them know where to go and what to do when they need to plan their events.”
Chancellor Steve Ballard speaks with student leaders at the inaugural Student Leadership Summit at the Murphy Center.
The summit was designed to mimic a professional conference with College Hill Suites playing the role of fancy hotel and conference center. Having the students together for the full three days was instrumental in fostering the kinds of relationships between groups that organizers hoped to see.
“Leadership is all about collaboration,” said ECU’s leader-in-residence Tommy Spaulding. “There are a lot of different organizations here that are trying to define themselves as leaders on campus, but when they learn how to work together and collaborate—that is a magical thing that has come out of this conference.”
Senior Brittney Ramsey of Gamma Chi Epsilon expects that magic to continue this fall as a result of the summit.
“I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met a lot of people from other organizations that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, so I’m looking forward to working with them in the fall,” she said.
The summit included workshops for the student officers that provided training on group dynamics, recruitment and marketing, time management, leadership styles, budgeting, and setting goals. A favorite workshop for many of the students was about identifying personality traits, during which students underwent personality profiles.
“I really liked the True Colors personality test that we did,” said senior Jarmichael Harris of the Black Student Union. “It really helped explain why I do some of the things I do. I’m really big on professionalism—starting on time, ending on time—and I found that to be consistent with the gold personality. It kind of reassured me and redirected my train of thought as to why I do certain things that I do.”
Students spent Thursday afternoon at ECU’s Challenge Course to put the skills they learned in the workshops to the test. Recent graduates Erin Edwards, Elizabeth Baker, Stephen Atkinson, and Rashida Waddell were on hand to mentor the current students as they confronted the challenge course.
“It’s a good challenge for them to have to work together to come up with new ideas and strategies for how to deal with organizational problems, because this all relates to challenges they will face as leaders of their organizations throughout the year,” said Edwards.
As a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership, she was excited to participate in the summit. “I kind of wanted to see first hand how students work, because until now I’ve always been the student,” she said.
Apart from educating student leaders on the more technical aspects of student leadership at ECU—things like requesting funding, managing a budget, and understanding university policies and regulations—the summit afforded organizers with the time to help students fully understand their roles as leaders.
“One of the things we are trying to stress to the students is that as they take this position there is also now accountability and responsibility. They can’t be putting Facebook pictures up of themselves doing this or that now that they are president. They represent their organization so they need to act accordingly all the time,” said Charlie Brown, associate director of the Center for Student Leadership & Civic Engagement.
One of the major areas of student leadership the summit hoped to address was providing a more standardized operating procedure for organizations. The goal isn’t for the summit to become a prerequisite to holding office, but instead help with continuity in the leadership of groups on campus. In the past, some groups have had very good executive transition plans, such as Gamma Chi Epsilon, whose leaders kept a notebook full of instructions and leadership ideas to be passed down from leader to leader. But for other groups, especially newer groups, those plans may not exist at all.
“In my organization, I didn’t have the officer transition notebook or anything like that, so I’m sort of doing everything on my own. The summit has been really helpful in that regard,” said Jason Simone Hawkins, president of GLBTSU.
The Student Leadership Summit culminated with dinner with university administrators and community leaders at the Murphy Center. There, students met with those individuals charged with leading the university at the highest level. In attendance was Chancellor Steve Ballard, the man who challenged ECU to assume the mantle of the Leadership University.
“The Student Leadership Summit is one of many things that we are doing to make sure that every one of our students has an opportunity to learn how to be a better leader,” said Ballard. “These 25 students are learning from our leader-in-residence, they are getting more skills, and just doing all the things they need to do to be reflective about what kind of leader they want to be.”
The summit is just one of many new leadership initiatives at ECU. The Lessons in Leadership speaker series also begins this year and will feature three world-renown speakers who will share their thoughts and experiences with students on campus. Students interested in participating with next year’s Student Leadership Summit can contact the Center for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement.