By Claudia Raigoza ’14
On August 29, 2013, the sun was shining as 57 sophomores returned to their beloved campus, ready to embark on a unique leadership opportunity—the Sophomore Leadership Experience (SLE). SLE is a four-day leadership development program organized by the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) with support from the Dean of Students Office. SLE is open to all sophomores and at no cost in an effort to encourage participation.
Since its inception in the fall of 2007, SLE has provided CMC sophomores with essential leadership competencies and experiential learning activities that engage students and challenge them to apply and expand their leadership skills. This year, SLE’s programming underwent a slight “make-over,” making it the best year yet! With a fresh perspective from KLI’s new Director of Leadership Programs, Sara Thompson, and the SLE coordinating team reevaluated the program more effectively and created new objectives that better aligned KLI’s core competencies with the program’s curriculum. Some of these objectives include improving students’ social expressivity, their ability to motivate and inspire others, and their leadership self-efficacy so that they may continue to develop as leaders throughout their time at CMC. When asked to describe the impact of SLE, Thompson responded, “The Sophomore Leadership Experience provides an important opportunity for CMC students to consider their personal leadership style, their strengths and weaknesses, and effective strategies for working in teams.”
SLE was held this year from Thursday, August 29 to Sunday, September 1. The majority of the program took place at a camp in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains. Throughout the four days, students had the opportunity to interact with various faculty and staff. For instance, Professor Ron Riggio taught students about the different leadership styles and President Hiram Chodosh shared some words of “leadership wisdom” with the group before they embarked on their journey up the mountain. While there, students partook in both large and small group activities, such as a scavenger hunt and reflection. Moreover, they learned about their own leadership styles through various assessments like the Social Skills and Myers-Briggs inventories, led by two KLI faculty members, Professor Ketan Mhatre and Dr. Sherylle Tan. On the third day, they spent the day on Low and High Ropes courses, which serves as the “peak” to the overall experience. The ropes course activities break students up into random groups and they are challenged to new heights—literally and metaphorically. Students are forced to think critically in team-based tasks and to look internally during more independent tasks. All of the weekend’s activities are geared towards the SLE learning objectives.
In total, KLI sent a group of 57 sophomore students and 6 student facilitators this year— our largest numbers yet! Unlike previous years, this year’s SLE included student facilitators, upperclassmen who also participated in the program and guided various activities, like small group discussions. Sophomores benefitted from these smaller groups because they create a safe and intimate space to discuss important leadership lessons from the day. The student facilitators benefitted from the programming as well, making friends and exercising their “followership” skills. Their goal was not to “lead” the sophomores, but rather, to serve as sounding boards and mentors so that these sophomores may feel comfortable to exercise their own leadership to the fullest.
Year after year, sophomores conclude SLE and return to campus rejuvenated and motivated to navigate the year with newfound purpose and direction. But perhaps more importantly, they come back with a greater understanding of themselves and their peers, with bonds that will continue until graduation.
To conclude, we asked sophomores to describe their greatest take-away from SLE:
“I learned that being a leader is maximizing the width and depth of your connections with other people, and being able to inspire those people to work towards a common goal.” –Kevin Garske ’16
“Participating in the ropes course at SLE was an eye-opening experience to see that many of my same talented and driven classmates had many of the same fears and insecurities that I have. Sharing these experiences brought our class closer together by showing us just how much we all have in common.” –Bridget Moran ’16
“The Sophomore Leadership Experience promotes the idea of outward and inherent leadership while reinforcing the notion of refreshing perspective. The key to SLE is providing a space where students can discuss passions with one another. This unique style of peer-to-peer mentorship allows for students to revise and reconstruct their goals with those who know them best. Through introspective thinking and cross-class collaboration SLE students gain a greater sense of agency in their goals. In doing so, students become one with their passions and develop a game plan that lasts well beyond SLE.” –Kwali Liggons ’16
“Going on SLE was an experience that I wish every sophomore could enjoy. After our first year at CMC together, it was an exciting way for the 57 of us sophomores to come back to and start off our next year. I know that I personally learned a wide array of leadership theories and practices that I had never known about such as how to lead a high-performing team, why it’s important to have a strong mission statement, as well as defining our passions and using those to be an effective leader. In addition, the ropes course challenged us and forced us to confront not only our fears about the course itself, but what we feared in our lives and wanted to change. I can personally attest that after spending 4 days on this wonderful retreat, that the Sophomore class is now facing our next year as much stronger leaders and has never been closer together.” –Ted Hall ’16