Sophomore Leadership Experience: A Look into the Program’s Past and Present
By Pema Donyo ‘17
Nearly one hundred sophomores met in a Kravis classroom to pick up our lunches, meet our bus buddies, and embark on the trip to Alpine Meadows on September 12 for the Sophomore Leadership Program (SLE). When we first arrived at the lodge, we were each assigned to a randomized small group. We met the other members and participated in an activity involving Frisbees, wordless communication, and serious balance. Our day ended with a discussion led by Sara Thompson about what it means to be a leader and what traits we normally associate with leadership. The second day was filled with low and high ropes courses, the highlight of many students’ time at SLE. Not only were many of us forced to face our fear of heights, but we also spent time opening up to one another about our fears and concerns at college.
It was on the second day when I realized how incredibly one-of-a-kind the SLE environment is. In our original small groups and in our ropes course groups, all the sophomores opened up, shared our experiences, and allowed ourselves to be more vulnerable than we’d ever seen each other be before. SLE allowed us the rare opportunity to step back from the rush on campus and reflect on what we can contribute to our community.
Every student took away something different from the trip. “I loved the campfire – talking to people and making new friends,” says Andrew Sheets. Another SLE participant, Jennifer Dallego, agreed. “While I consider myself an open-minded person, I realized I had preconceived notions about people. I met a lot of cool people who I never would have talked to otherwise,” she says.
While I was exhausted by the time the bus rolled back to the Kravis Center and another mountain of homework loomed ahead of me that night, I knew it was more than a three-day study break; it was an opportunity to expand beyond the “Claremont bubble” and immerse ourselves in a new experience.
A retrospective glance at past articles about SLE reveal that even as the years have gone by, SLE still remains true to its original intent. There have been minor changes, of course. In past years, SLE encompassed four days and took place before the beginning of the school year. This year, logistics changes to the program caused SLE to be three days and take place a few weekends into the school year for less scheduling conflict.
Peter Jung ’10’s 2007 interview with the first SLE coordinator, Jessica Briggs ’03. Briggs said in 2007, “This program is designed to teach students more about who they are, identify their preferences, and provide some of the self-leadership tools they’ll need to prepare for their junior and senior years, as well as life after college.” Not only have the goals of the program remained the same over time, students feel the same way about the program as well. An article from 2009 revealed students sharing positive experiences about their time at SLE.
Over the course of the next few years, leadership theories and environments around the world may alter. But sophomores at Claremont McKenna will still be prepared and ready to address leadership issues with the help of programs such as the Sophomore Leadership Experience.