Patriotism on Display: Special Olympics Winter Games

Unjaneé Wells, Miss Michigan Teen USA 2016 sings the National Anthem at Winter Games

The Special Olympics movement has a unique ability to capture our emotions.  I have had the privilege of being a volunteer with Special Olympics Michigan for the past seven years, the last five as a member of the Games Committee of both the State Summer and State Winter Games.  I donate my time as the event photographer for both.

Photographing such an event grants you a special connection to the athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans.  You see the heart of the Special Olympics movement – athletes competing for the love of sport and comradery of team.  You see a place where inclusion is bigger that disability.  You also see something striking: everyone here is largely the same. The volunteer coaching staff, event personnel, and athletes with a sole focus on the games.  You see the determination of a sprinter pushing to the tape.  You see the despair from an alpine skier crashing to the snow having missed a gate.

Through my years of capturing Special Olympics athletes and volunteers I’ve made wonderful memories.  Striking images that capture strength, speed, grace, joy, defeat and victory.  I’ve treasured seeing these images support the work of the Special Olympics staff who use them to fundraise, adorn event venues, or advertise competitions.  One of my favorite memories was receiving this year’s Special Olympics Michigan holiday card.  Depicted on the front was an image I captured of a snowshoe competitor named Destiny with a text overlay, “Brave Never Quits.”  I don’t know who was more excited, Destiny or me.

When preparing to shoot at a Special Olympics contest, I expect the height of emotion.  However, this year’s Winter Games in Traverse City, MI surprised me.

At the opening ceremony a very talented guest, Unjaneé Wells, Miss Michigan Teen USA 2016, was invited to sing the National Anthem.

Having a talented anthem singer is not unusual.  What caught me by surprise was the wave of feelings that I felt as she belted out the song.  While she sang, she was joined by more than 2,000 Special Olympics Michigan athletes.   I was overcome.

I’ve never been so moved by our nation’s song.  Not Opening Day at Wrigley Field, not being in Yankee Stadium on 9/11 in 2003, not attending a graduation or funeral.

This was special.  It was a reminder that, no matter w our political climate, no matter our president, no matter our differences, there are some things about the United States that are just damn exceptional.

Spending four days in northern Michigan with 2,000 Special Olympics Michigan athletes, athletes who want so badly to win, but no matter the outcome, will always be brave in the attempt, reminded me that although we have work to do, I’m proud to be an American.

Posted in Photography Tagged with: , , ,

Iowa LeaderShape Institute 2017

The 2017 University of Iowa LeaderShape Institute Faculty

A week at the LeaderShape Institute is always impactful.  Being around young adults who thirst for a better world renews my energy.  It is a reminder that what we do as leadership development professionals matters.

In January 2017 I was fortunate to spend six days with students from the University of Iowa.  I’ll forever be better because of this week.

Even before I landed in Cedar Rapids, I knew that I had an affinity for these students.  I emailed Lilián, one of our student coordinators, and as an introduction I asked, “what do you love about being at Iowa?”  The simplicity of her reply struck me: “Iowa students have a humble ambition.”

Humble ambition.  I loved the connotation.  An assurance that our voice matters, that we have the ability to create change, but we do it in a way that exudes not only confidence, but humility and respect.

After a week in Iowa, I agree.  Thank you, Hawkeyes for a memorable week.

See my photos from the week on Facebook.

Posted in Leadership Tagged with: , , , ,

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, But Don’t Feed the Trolls

Most every American family has their Thanksgiving traditions.  Rare is it that you realize in the moment when these traditions begin. For my family and me, Thanksgiving 2016 was one such time.  It was a warm feeling traveling with Erin for our family celebrations with our daughter to celebrate her first Thanksgiving.

On our drive from Mt. Pleasant to Bay City, I checked Twitter.  “Native Americans” was trending in my area, I clicked to see the conversation. The first result, from Twitter user @leahrboss, stunned me.

I quoted the tweet, adding “Let’s check in on Twitter for Thanksgiving . . . oh, still racist af. The Tweet generated moderate traffic, earning several retweets and more than 100 “favs” by the day’s end.

tweet

I woke up this morning and was very surprised to find that throughout the night the tweet had spawned numerous replies, almost universally negative.  In total, I had more than 1,000 notifications related to what I had thought was a self-evident truth: this was a racist tweet.

A few Twitter users, including the author of the original tweet, challenged me to articulate just how she (Leah) was racist.

explain

To be very clear, this tweet, and the sentiment that Native Americans are somehow “less civilized,” is objectively racist.  Without unpacking the subjective meanings of “civilized,” I can still assert that most reasonable people will read “Not gonna (sic) feel guilty for Native Americans. Nope. They were conquered by a more advanced civilization. The end.” as racist.

The idea that Native Americans lost their lands because white conquerors were more civilized meets the most basic understanding of racism: that somehow one’s own racial group is better than another.

I will not debate this further.  As the dozens of Twitter users already engaged with this conversation have illustrated, this only devolves into circular arguments.

What I take away from this interaction is the absurdity and ferocity of Twitter users’ energy directed at this tweet between Midnight at 9:00 A.M. Eastern.  A Twitter user with the handle @Slybantr replied, “lol, you still think the word racist holds power, that’s adorable.”

holdspower

That’s frightening.  It’s frightening because, as a quick review of much of the discourse in our nation presently shows, it’s true.  Calling someone a racist no longer holds power.

It’s as though I had called their words racist, and the response was a clear “so, what’s wrong with that?”

When a member of community asserts that their right to America is somehow derived by their race, that is undeniably racist.  Calling an action or statement racist, and being able to objectively demonstrate that it’s racist, should elicit immediate condemnation from all.

In this instance, I saw dozens of Twitter users refuse to denounce racism, instead becoming aggressive in their defense of the position that those of White-European descent deserve to rule America because they were a superior race.

Their methods sought to intimidate.  Several, through a quick web search or by reading my Twitter feed, discovered that I am employed by Central Michigan University.  They soon began tweeting my employer, asking if they supported my “vulgar ways.”

lowrent alldeptheads

They resorted to name calling.

statuscmu

stafford

 

Twitter user @jwiggenebt suggested that I slit my wrist.

wrist

To be fair, not all commentary was aggressive or dismissive.  @mike4libertyCA offered that “we can condemn the wrongdoing that was done.. while also praising the civilization that was brought here.”  To some extent, I must agree.  I, too, live on lands formerly inhabited by indigenous populations.  I, too, am enjoying a great deal of privilege because of my ancestry.

What did I learn from this? Racism is alive and well in America.

When you see it, don’t let it pass.

The internet has become a powerful tool to share your political convictions.  Regrettably, it has also become a place where standards of fact and civility no longer exist.

I welcome constructive conversations that bring our country forward.  As anyone who knows me will attest, come to my office in Powers Hall anytime you like for a conversation.  I want to hear you and understand you.

Tweet shit that’s racist as fuck?  Blocked.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Can We Diversify our Classrooms if We Fail to Diversify the Front of the Classroom?

The promise of higher education is great.  Perhaps more than any other factor, education gives people social mobility and creates opportunity.  However, our institutions of higher education are products of our society – and reflect its imperfections.  Groups marginalized in American society are often underrepresented, or left out altogether, of higher education.  Diversity trainings have become common place on American college campuses, but do they do what they were designed to do?

The results of these conditions can be seen manifested in national news.  The issues of privilege and institutionalized racism became the topic of conversation after the Duke Lacrosse scandal.  Social fraternities at the University of Oklahoma at Norman brought the conversation to new audiences.  True or not, Rolling Stone’s exposé on sexual assault and sexual aggression made hostilities towards woman a hot topic on campuses nationwide.  Most recently the Black Lives Matter movement and the unrest at the University of Missouri have illustrated that diversity issues must be addressed within higher education.

The conversation has started.  But it is not always a productive means to promote diversity.  Perhaps the best illustration of this is the University of Missouri.  The flagship campus in Columbia, MO became ground zero for a national exploration of racial tension on campus.  African American students, frustrated with the campus climate, created the Concerned Student 1950 movement (1950 was the first year the university admitted black students).  During the 2015 homecoming celebrations the group attempted to block the parade route in an effort to obtain a meeting with campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.  In the days following the protest the Chancellor’s Office refused to meet with the students, and the campus found itself in turmoil.  National media attention brought the issue to a head.  With students, community members, and faculty calling resignation, Chancellor Loftin announced he would step down.

What went wrong?  U of M had a history of incidents involving racial bias, to the extent that the university created a diversity program, One Mizzou, to provide training.  In 2015, the program was cancelled (this was one of the concerns cited by the Concerned Student movement).  A November 20th article in The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that the chancellor instituted a mandatory diversity training in response to the incidents.  While some students saw this as progress, public opinion believed that this was simply an effort by Chancellor Loftin to save his job.  In the article, author Steve Kolowich notes that diversity training is common, “Workshops, seminars, and lectures about how to respect differences at diversifying institutions have been commonplace at colleges for at least two decades. In 1997 a Bryn Mawr College study estimated that 81 percent of colleges had tried holding workshops at which students discussed their experiences of racial bias.”

If diversity training is so prevalent, why do issues of insensitivity, sexual aggression, racism, and other forms of hate continue to impact our campuses?  Kolowich suggests that trainings are offered, but perhaps don’t reach those who need the training most.  He notes that often, faculty contracts preclude faculty (mostly tenured and tenure-track) from being required to attend trainings.  Furthermore, when training is optional, those who elect to attend are likely not to be offenders.

Beth McMurtrie’s article, “One Campus Approaches Diversity Training with Hard Data and Careful Thought, which appeared online in The Chronicle of Higher Education, details one diversity training program that is working.  The University of Oklahoma has recently implemented a required diversity training for new freshmen and transfer students.  The five-hour program includes interactive sessions and is anchored by an intergroup dialogue.  The program’s creator, Dr. Wong (Lau), employed demographic data, principles of social science research, and meaningful conversation in an effort to create a training program that builds empathy in students and equips them to talk about issues as charged as race and privilege.

What’s Wrong with Diversity Training in American Higher Education?  Why do some programs work, but most fail to transform our campuses.

1. Diversity is claimed as a core value, but institutions do not live that value.

Look at any university website, mission statement, or promotional material.  You’ll see the buzz words: diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism.  But walk the campus and it’s often a quick realization that those “values” espoused by the institution are largely marketing and branding efforts.  For a college or university to value diversity, they need to live that value and actively work to diversify their campus.

I work on the campus of a large public doctoral university in Michigan.  When a search was announced for our chief diversity officer l asked to sit on the selection committee.  I was shocked by the response to my request.  I was asked, “Why?  You work with leadership programs, not diversity issues.” All too often, on our campuses diversity work is the “job” of the diversity office, when in reality, if we are living this as a value, it should be seen as everyone’s responsibility.  While our diversity offices may lead and coordinate efforts, diversity education should be done across the curriculum and throughout our student services division.

2. Diversity trainings have become boxes to check, rather than meaningful parts of the campus life.

While competency-based education is here to stay, diversity is not a competency.  It is something that is valued, and something that must constantly be practiced.  All too often diversity training is completed so that institutions can say that it is offered.  This is a hallmark of poor training – instead of asking what knowledge, skills, and abilities one should receive as a result of participating in the training, the training is the product itself.

3. Campuses reflect society at large, they should reflect our best aspiration.

Racism exists on our campuses because it exists in our society.  Higher education is a leader in advancing medicine, technology, and even serves as a training ground for our next generation of athletic heroes.  Our campuses need to be leaders in developing the types of communities where all are welcome.

4. You cannot diversify the classroom without diversifying the front of the classroom.

We need to hire more faculty and staff who are women and people of color.  True, the number of minorities and women with terminal degrees limits the pipeline.  Instead of pointing to this as a causative issue, we should see this as a symptom of our system’s failure.  We must ensure that we are providing more opportunities for women and people of color to find careers in academe.  It is important for students to see people that look like themselves in leadership roles and to have mentors.  Until we diversify the front of the classroom, we will continue to struggle.

Diversity training has a place in higher education. To fulfill its potential, it needs to be approached from a training design and curriculum design perspective, rather than being the product of a politicized process

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,

Traveling Naked

My Fuji X-T10 on a recent trip to Montréal

My Fuji X-T10 on a recent trip to Montréal

I’ve long been an advocate for traveling light.  I’ve been a follower of onebag.com, 1bag1world, and others. I’ve learned an affinity for Tom Bihn bags that rivals my allegiance for much more meaningful causes.  Today, I’m not only comfortable traveling with only a carry on, I prefer it.

However, my last two journeys, to Chicago and Montréal were very different.  I’m traveling naked.

 

Well, not exactly – but it feels like it.  Ask anyone who knows me, “what comes to mind when you think of Dan Gaken?”  The response is the same (although their attitude towards it certainly varies): he never goes anywhere without that camera!  (Or, alternatively, “he always has his damn camera in my face!”)

It’s true.  When I customize a packing list for a trip my tech items are the first I consider.  And, for the past decade, at the top of that list has been a DSLR with pro-size body and my lens trinity, batteries, filters, and accessories.

Moving through airports (or in my case, train stations), my Tom Bihn Aeronaut allows me to weave through crowds or make a quick trip out and about during a layover and still carry everything I need for a week or longer.*

The asterisk: I always have a dedicated camera bag in addition to my clothing and toiletries.  While I’ve grown as a photographer to know that I don’t need my entire kit, I still find myself carrying in excess of 20lbs of gear on many trip.  This is not conducive to the urban exploring that I love (in fact, it was this drive to explore America’s cities and see its rail network that got me interested in photography to begin with).  It’s a complex problem: my camera gear was now making me not want to explore new places to get images.

I recently (after a thorough period of reading reviews, examining my needs, testing gear at camera stores) bought into a mirror less camera system.  I bought the Fuji X-T10 with lenses that (I thought) would be a wonderful compliment to my main subjects (street photography, railroads, and architecture).  Everything people love about Fuji, the wonderful color rendering of JPEGs, the build quality, and response time, have made the camera fun.  But would fun be a suitable replacement for a DSLR system?

About a month ago I made a quick two-day trip aboard Amtrak to Chicago.  This was a test.  I did not bring my DSLR.  I felt naked.  However, I left the city with a number of images with great color, sharp focus, and that were great captures of the spaces I visited over those two days.

Can this little Fuji do everything that my Canon (and its accompanying collection of 10+ lenses and accessories, collected over more than ten years)?  No.  But it has earned a permanent place in my camera bag.  When I’m traveling for work, or want to be mobile.  When my wife and I are bringing our 2 ½ month old and all the equipment she requires.  When I want to move freely about a new city without cutting my day short from walking with 20lbs of gear.  I am confident that I can still get wonderful memories captured.  Certainly more than I would if I had stayed home.

 

Posted in Photography, Travel Tagged with: , , ,

LAS Returns to the Adventure Learning Center for Mentoring Retreat

Emma Bautch, a sophomore Leader Advancement Scholar from Brighton, MI, swings from the high ropes course at the Mentoring Retreat

Emma Bautch, a sophomore Leader Advancement Scholar from Brighton, MI, swings from the high ropes course at the Mentoring Retreat

On September 12th and 13th the entering Leader Advancement Scholarship (LAS) cohorts of 2015 and 2014 traveled to the Adventure Learning Center at Eagle Village for the annual mentoring retreat. Ninety-one students spend two days at the training center participating in a variety of leadership and teambuilding activities ranging from high ropes and rock climbing to canoeing and problem solving games.

Every new member of the LAS class has a mentor. For some, this has been a relationship that starts with flowers arriving at their high school or a surprise visit at a graduation party. For others, it is a care package and a handshake at freshmen orientation. For everyone, it’s an important connection to a successful freshmen year.

Think about the first days of college. For many, this can be some of the most trying times of a young life. First time away from parents and family. First time in a college classroom. First time sharing a bedroom. It’s a big change.   For these students, who are overwhelmingly successful (historically, the LAS cohorts have a 98% first year retention rate and a 96% five-year graduation rate), this success is possible because they’re supported, comfortable, and ready to learn. Having a mentor to show them what it takes to be a successful college student eases the adjustment to college.

And, while you would be correct to assume the mentees appreciate their mentors, what you might not expect is the fervor with which the mentors approach their role. The love it, they thrive in the role.

Why? It’s often said that college is a place to find yourself, the most successful students know that college is the place to decide who you want to be. Our mentors help our newest leaders be the person they want to be. That’s exciting.

See photos from this year’s LAS Mentoring Retreat.

Riley Bussell, a member of the freshmen LAS cohort, created a wonderful video of her experience during the weekend.

Posted in Leadership Tagged with: , ,

#LASintheD

Detroit, MI - A mural is painted on a wall in a former warehouse in the Redford neighborhood's Artists' Vilage

Detroit, MI – A mural is painted on a wall in a former warehouse in the Redford neighborhood’s Artists’ Vilage

If you’ve never visit the Motor City, you’re likely of the impression that it is one of the most forsaken pieces of real estate in the United States.

From July 2013 until December of 2014 the City of Detroit was bankrupt, the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. It’s politics make the Illinois Governor’s mansion seem like Disneyland. The city’s public school system has largely been a symbol of the need for education reform.

Yet, there are changes afoot in the city. Neighborhoods are rebuilding themselves while clinging to a storied past that rivals the greatest cities of the world.

Detroit is complex. It’s story largely unknown. A multifarious arena where politics, socio-economic status, class, race, and religion all play a role in the story of the city.

The city itself is more than 300 years old. It has been controlled by the French, the British, and the United States. It’s the largest city in Michigan, and the largest city along the U.S. – Canadian border. Even before Henry Ford’s $5 a day wage made the city famous, it was a city of industry and production.

The city was founded by Cadillac and the French, ceded to the British, and even was occupied during the war of 1812. Other than an indigenous population that all but eradicated by the nation’s westward expansion, the city had been dominated by those of European decent since 1701.

African-American residents began to move north even before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the South’s enslaved populations. With the city’s factories humming, Detroit became not only a stop on the Underground Railroad, for many, it was the final destination. During reconstruction southern blacks, seeking better opportunities for work and to escape Jim Crow laws of the south, moved north. When the industrial revolution created an excess of jobs, the migration continued.

While Detroit was a magnate for people of color, it did not mean that it was exempt from racism and other plagues of hate. The status quo was maintained through a division of labor (blacks worked on the line, white managers and business owners supervised) and by each race being relegated to their distinct neighborhoods.

By the 1950s the climate in Detroit was changing. Federal highways were approved. The Motor City was to receive its share of interstation freeways. Largely white controlled planning commissions opted to have the highways cut through all-black neighborhoods. The results proved to be a tipping point in a racially charged climate that had descended upon Detroit.

African American communities were upset. Although they were compensated for their property, most felt that the amount offered was not a fair market value. Furthermore, the highways would force families to relocate, moving them from their neighborhoods, families, and school systems.

Unethical real estate agents made a play and seized the opportunity. It was common practice to sell a home to a black family in what had been an all-white neighborhood. The real estate company would then quietly warn other nearby homeowners that the blacks were moving into their neighborhood, and that they should sell before their property lost all value. Eager to get out, homes sold well below their market value and what had been all white neighborhoods became all-black areas of town in the matter of months. Racial tensions came to a boil in 1968 when Detroit’s race riots made national news. The remaining white families quickly left to secure a future in areas with less crime, better schools, and the expanses of suburbia.

This “white flight” moved an entire generation from the City of Detroit to new sprawling suburban cities and towns that did not exist even 10 years prior. Novi, Troy, Rochester, Sterling Heights, Clinton Township and other farmlands were converted into moderate to affluent white suburbs.

Meanwhile, the City of Detroit was left behind. As white business owners moved out of Detroit, they took their companies with them. Increased racial tensions denied many African American families equal access to higher paying jobs. At more than 138 square miles, it is one of the largest municipalities in all of North America. A depleted tax base was simply insufficient to provide police, schools, fire protection, and maintenance to the city.   The city began to decay.

That’s where we are today. Detroit, a city who no more than 50 years ago was amongst the nation’s great, now sits at below 1 million residents. A white ring of suburban affluence surrounds her, demanding facilities for sports teams, concerts, and plays while the city cannot meet financial obligations for utilities.

Our current generation of youth knows no other Detroit. Detroit Public Schools are all black, the suburbs largely all white. Michigan’s schools are amongst the most segregated in the country. Other than a Tigers game, or ad adventurous trip to downtown to buy drugs, most teens know little of the city that sits in southeast Michigan.

But, make no mistake, Detroit is rising. This city has residents who take exception to the idea that their city is a “blank canvas.” It is full of history, residents who stayed, those who moved back. Those who are committed to a new Detroit.

Exciting charter schools fulfill the promise of education. Unique community groups create arts communities from abandoned space. Urban farms are retaking the blight-stricken neighborhoods.

Our annual #LASintheD trip is fun, it’s an exciting way for our students to but a bookend on their first year in college. More importantly, it shows them some truths about leadership.

It shows them that leadership is not about position. During the trip we meet with business owners, teachers, volunteers, and retirees. Each plays a role in the city, and each has a stake in making it great again. Those who seem to do the most are those without title, those working against all the systems, often on their own, to create change.

It shows them that need to lead is very real. Detroit was the victim of leadership that was not inclusive. Fifty years ago it was a city that had everything going for it. Today, those leaders are gone, leaving a wake of blight as they left. Why? Because they simply couldn’t handle the notion of sharing power and governance. True leadership is for all.

It shows them that one person can make a difference. We visit the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. Jalen Rose, former NBA basketball player, has created a dynamic school where education, leadership, and success are instilled in the culture. One man’s vision is now creating opportunities for hundreds of students in Detroit.

By exposing our students to Detroit our hope is that they see leaders in action, leaders that look like them. It is our hope that they see leadership not as simply a class, or item on a resume, but rather a responsibility. They may not have known why they live in the suburbs rather than the city before, or the story of Detroit. They no longer can plead ignorance. This job, to reinvest in Detroit, matters to Michigan and to them.

Posted in Leadership, Travel Tagged with: , , , ,

Exceptional Practices: #ACPA15

Dan Gaken presents during the 2015 ACPA Conference in Tampa, FL

Dan Gaken presents during the 2015 ACPA Conference in Tampa, FL | Photo Credit: Jesi Parker

Consider. Collaborate. Create. Commit. The collective energy of thousands of student affairs professionals is exciting. That was the case in early March when the annual convention of ACPA (College Student Educators International) descended onto Tampa, FL.  The 2015 conference examined some of the emerging issues that face higher education today including the Higher Education Opportunity Act, finding safe places on our campuses for trans* students, faculty, and staff. The conference also provided a forum to reflect on the effect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had on our campuses in the 25 years since its authorization.

An exciting new session format, the “Exceptional Practices” series, gave conference attendees an opportunity hear from best practices institutions in a variety of areas. The Central Michigan University Leadership Institute’s partnership with LeaderShape, Inc. was chosen to be featured in one such session.

On Saturday, March 7, I had the opportunity to present with Jesi Parker about the history of the Leadership Institute’s 17-year partnership with LeaderShape, a partnership that dates almost to the beginning of the Leadership Institute.

During the creation of the LI a campus-wide body known as the Leadership Advisory Board, or LAB, was formed to create a model for delivering leadership programs. The LEAD framework identified key learning outcomes for students at four developmental levels: aspiring, emerging, transitional, and capstone.

Under the LEAD framework, hallmarks of transitional leadership programs included an appreciation for diversity and an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with those that are different than one self, ethical practices and discerning ones own values, creativity, and critical thinking skills. The Institute, the six-day flagship program of LeaderShape, is uniquely created to deliver these very learning outcomes.

Since the first campus-based session of the Institute was held at CMU in 2000, more than 800 Central Michigan University students have graduated from the Institute. That is 800 CMU students who now know that they have a life worth leading, and know that they have the capacity to achieve extraordinary results.

This has been a wonderful partnership, one that allows the CMU Leadership Institute to provide an exceptional student leadership development opportunity within the context of our LEAD framework. It was a pleasure to share this model with the outstanding group of professionals at #ACPA15, and hopefully it leads to further advances in providing students meaningful ways to learn about their ability to lead.

Posted in Leadership Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Welcome to the Family: #LAS2015

On March 3, 2015 we went to St. Charles High School to surprise one of 40 incoming freshmen accepted into CMU’s Leader Advancement Scholarship program. Kyle Helfrich was shocked when Superintendent Michael Decker led him into the room where CMU Leadership Institute Director Dan Gaken, his parents and others waited to congratulate him.

On March 3, 2015 we went to St. Charles High School to surprise one of 40 incoming freshmen accepted into CMU’s Leader Advancement Scholarship program. Kyle Helfrich was shocked when Superintendent Michael Decker led him into the room where CMU Leadership Institute Director Dan Gaken, his parents and others waited to congratulate him.

The Leader Advancement Scholarship is unique, no other college or university has a program as comprehensive as the Leadership Institute’s elite scholarship cohort. This program combines an academic Protocol with four years of sequenced co-curricular activities, a living learning community, and provides students with a scholarship for completing the program. In the 17 years the program has been in existence its impact on the Central Michigan University campus is unmatched. Leadership scholars have dramatically changed the campus climate and created an engaged campus that provides countless leadership opportunities. Student success is also evident, leadership students have a graduation rate above 90%, and are actively sough by employers.

However, when the program was created in 1998, no one could have predicted that the most valuable component of the program would be the cohort itself. We find the nation’s top high school leaders, students who make the world better for those around them, and put them together. That’s when the magic happens. Being in a supportive environment, where they are asked what they will do to change the world, rather than being told they can’t, ignites a fire in these students. Then they help each other do it.

During the annual scholarship competition that is on full display. We showcase the best element of our program: the students themselves. The students show our guests that leadership matters, and that at CMU, leaders are valued. For many, the opportunity to experience the LAS competition is the deciding factor in enrolling at Central Michigan University.

Competitors leave wanting nothing more than to be one of the students the just met.

Although the students themselves pick the next cohort of students, I have the extreme privilege of making the award announcements. Every year this is a special moment, these phone calls have the power to forever change the lives of the students that have earned these awards. For the, it is validation of the work they’ve done for the past four years, but it is also admission into one of the best leadership programs in the nation. And, whether they know it yet or not, it’s a new family that will support them as they strive for greatness.

So, for all of our new Leader Advancement Scholars, welcome to the family.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leadership Matters at CMU

caaae0fd0d1d5571223e8c08c73c6e34Feeling valued is important. At some level, everyone needs to know that they matter.

The Leadership Institute at Central Michigan University has certainly been valued differently through its existence. Born as a beloved project of President Leonard Plachta, the early years of the Leadership Institute were marked by great fanfare. Resources poured in from the Office of Residence Life, Student Life, and the Honors Program. We had champions on the Board of Trustees and a president that believed what we could do in the field of leadership development would make Central Michigan University known nationally.

Changing administrations and a budget crisis moved the Leadership Institute from the forefront of campus thought. Nonetheless, the Institute pressed on, developing a program series that is as solid as any in the nation.

Despite being part of what is truly one of the nation’s best undergraduate leadership development programs, Leadership Institute staff, scholarship recipients, and members often felt undervalued. “Why does our program receive less funding?” “Why is our scholarship the smallest offered by the university?” “Why are jobs being eliminated from the Institute?”

Change has come. With the creation of the Enrollment and Student Services division Central Michigan University has reinvested in student services. The Office of Student Life became Student Activities and Involvement and doubled in size. New positions have been added in the Volunteer Center and to support the Greek community. Spaces have been transformed through intensive renovations of the Bovee UC’s lower level.

The time for leadership is now. In January 2015 the Leadership Institute, working collaboratively with other units within the Student Affairs division, including Leadership Safari, have begun a process to reimagine how leadership is woven into the fabric of student engagement at CMU.

This process is beginning with a request for proposals. CMU is currently accepting proposals from firms and individuals to form a partnership to create a reimagined series of leadership program offerings. Once identified, this partner will work with CMU over the next four to six months to produce a comprehensive written report that outlines a plan to ensure that Central Michigan University is at the forefront of student leadership development for decades to come.

It’s an exciting time for the Leadership Institute. We have been told again that we are valued. Central Michigan University has repeated what I have told students for years: leadership matters.

Posted in Leadership Tagged with: , ,