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Office of Student Leadership experiences astronomical growth

The Office of Student Leadership Development (OSLD), created in 2003, has grown considerably since its inception in order to meet a high increase in programming demand from students.

The OSLD, which has brought about significant transformation and change to the Lehigh community, works with students to teach, hone and nurture their leadership skills so that they can become strong, effective and successful leaders both inside and outside the classroom.

“It’s been a big transition over the past three years,” says Allison Gulati, assistant dean for student leadership development. “We not only have added staff and services, but the number of students involved in our programs has grown from about 200 to more than 1,500.”

The OSLD has also added new programs like a comprehensive Greek leadership development program and revitalized the Lehigh ropes course, along with building upon strong existing programs like Leadership Lehigh.

Greek Life Leadership Development

As a result of the Strengthening Greek Life Task Force recommendations and the outcomes of the first year of the accreditation process, Student Affairs staff realized that leadership development was an area that needed to be significantly strengthened within its Greek chapters.

Among the identified needs were: access to more leadership resources; opportunities to receive more hands-on, in-depth leadership training; and leadership opportunities to meet the needs of executive boards, general members, and new members.

“As this vision for developing a comprehensive Greek leadership effort emerged,” says Gulati, “it also became evident that we needed a full-time staff position to oversee this plan in order to be fully successful.”

It was also important, Gulati adds, that this person have both an understanding of Greek life and a significant amount of training in leadership development.

Gulati did not have to look far for her ideal candidate.

Beth Greenberg, a former Greek Life Coordinator (GLC) for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (OFSA), who also worked on leadership development as part of her duties, was an outstanding candidate for the position, says Gulati.

Gulati says that Greenberg’s Greek background, her leadership experience in graduate school, and her leadership development collateral assignment last year as a GLC, made her an exceptional candidate to take on this new challenge.

“Leadership theory and development was always something that I was passionate about,” says Greenberg. “It was that one thing that got me really excited, so I’m thrilled to take this new challenge on to help our Greek chapters develop this key pillar they were built upon.”

Greenberg is developing a leadership development program for Greek students that focuses on four primary components: long and short term chapter planning; retreats and workshops to facilitate officer transition and training; the “Greek Tracks” program, which is a series of leadership development workshops designed for specific member-needs (executive board, general and new members); and chapter planning derived from the accreditation process.

“Greek organizations are built on leadership,” says Greenberg. “Students join a Greek organization not only for the brotherhood/sisterhood but to also be a part of an organization that aids their leadership development in a meaningful and intentional way.”

The OSLD is also conducting a Greek leadership needs assessment that measures the degree to which various leadership concepts are important to, and practiced by, each chapter. This information will help chapters identify leadership skills and practices that they would like to improve upon, and receive more training on, in the future.

“The information that we yield from the assessment will help guide our new Greek leadership program,” says Greenberg.

Lehigh University Ropes Course

Another new addition to the OSLD is the revitalized ropes course. Lehigh’s ropes course, revived after more than five years, is a series of outdoor elements made up of trees, wires, poles and other equipment designed to create unique and challenging problem-solving and team-building scenarios.

Through participation, groups work to enhance trust, motivation, communication and decision-making skills. After completing each element, participants have a small group discussion that allows them to reflect on their actions and behaviors, and to discuss how they can apply their lessons learned back to their organization.

Lehigh’s course is facilitated by students, staff and professional facilitators. The existing course, located on the Mountaintop campus, was renovated in summer 2005 after extensive research and planning.

“The ropes course opened in August and it’s been very successful,” says Gulati. “Our goal was to conduct a minimum of 30 sessions over the course of an entire year; we exceeded that goal by early November and to date have hosted more than 40 groups on the course.”

Student organizations, along with numerous outside groups such as Kean University, the Girl Scouts of America in Allentown, and a local ice hockey team, have used the course. A high course, which involves more risk-taking and individual confidence building, may be added by August 2007.

“There was a huge gap here on campus in terms of team-building training,” says Gulati. “In essence, you had some loosely connected groups of people that had never done any sort of trust- building together and are trying to make plans to accomplish their goals, yet they don’t even know each other.”

For that purpose, she adds, the ropes course has been successful for participating groups because the outdoor, hands-on course puts students in situations where they work on decision-making and problem-solving skills, and learn how to lead a group, follow a group, and communicate within a group. Groups also work to enhance trust and motivation, and after completing each element, have small group discussions that allow them to reflect on their actions and behaviors.

“Developing these leadership skills has been a huge focus for our students,” says Gulati. “It provides them with a lab for experimenting with various leadership practices in a real situation.”

Gulati and her staff have been working hard to get the word out about the course which stays open year-round. “We’re marketing the course heavily over the winter because most people think it’s closed due to the cold weather,” she says. “But people start to get tired of being cooped up inside, and we find that winter is a great time to do a ropes course, and the weather actually helps because it adds to the unpredictability of the course.”

Leadership Lehigh

Leadership Lehigh, the signature program of the OSLD, has gained intense momentum, doubling in size in only two years.

The Leadership Lehigh program, currently in its third year, is a four-year comprehensive leadership program that focuses on skill development, practical application, experiential learning and self-reflection. This program provides students with the practical skills and theoretical background necessary for them to lead now and in the future. The program currently has about 160 students from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Phase One: Emerging Leaders is designed for first-year students and has seen the most significant growth with 85 students enrolled this year. This group of first-year students is focusing on increasing their self-awareness and personal leadership skills such as values clarification, goal-setting, decision-making and communication.

“This year’s class is very service-oriented,” says Gulati. “For example, our goal was to complete five hours of service, per student, per semester, but they completed well beyond that in just the first few months of the fall semester.”

Phase Two: Established Leaders builds upon the leadership foundation built in Phase One, and begins to focus on group and team dynamics and project management skills.

To put learning into practice, students in Phase Two work on a year-long project. To provide the context of learning about groups and teams, students created proposals at the beginning of the year for projects that they are interested in working on.

“This year,” she says, “we had four times the number of proposals as we had in the past.”

Working from approximately 30 proposals, students chose four projects including:
Project Play, where students adopted a playground on the South Side and are working to renovate it.
Jamaican Me Crazy, where students are working with Teens for Technology, a national organization that provides technology for Jamaican classrooms. Students are raising money to donate a computer lab for a Jamaican school.
Heifer International, where students are working to raise money to purchase animals for communities around the world. The animals purchased and the money raised will help communities sustain. themselves.
Relay for Life, where students are partnering with another student organization, Colleges against Cancer, to bring Relay for Life to Lehigh’s campus. Relay for Life is a fun-filled event designed to celebrate cancer survivors and to raise money for research and programs associated with the American Cancer Society.

Phase Three: Experienced Leaders takes the foundation that students have received in Phases One and Two and puts it into the context of the larger community focusing on positive social change and social justice. Students begin to explore who they are in a societal context, through very intentional activities and discussions, and then examine how their interactions with the world around them can affect and create positive social change.

“Phase Three is where the action is,” says Gulati. “Our 37 students will focus on social justice and creating a lasting positive change in the local community. This phase also looks more closely at leadership for sustainable and responsible social interaction and growth.

To begin their experience, students participated in an overnight retreat and high ropes course, where they focused on the theoretical framework surrounding social justice, as well as, personal risk-taking and exploration.

From there, students participated in a series of workshops that helped them explore individually, and as a group, their thoughts on diversity and societal interactions. Field trips to local businesses and organizations such as Just Born, UGI, St. Luke’s, Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of the Lehigh Valley, the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center, and the City of Bethlehem Zoning Office allowed students to get a sense of what leadership looks like within these companies, how they support growth and change in South Bethlehem, what they do to help with volunteerism, and what they see as the major issues facing South Bethlehem.

After all of these experiences, a winter retreat, and a meeting with the Bethlehem mayor John Callahan, the students will decide on an issue they would like to impact. During the spring, they will meet with a variety of community constituents, as well as, those most directly affected by the issue at hand. Ultimately, the group will adopt an implementation plan that will allow them to begin working towards systemic improvement around their selected issue.

Next year, says Gulati, in Phase Four: Engaged Leaders, these students will implement their change so that ultimately, when these 37 students leave Lehigh, they will have created a sustainable, systematic and positive change in the community.

During this final phase of the program, students will also spend time focusing on the next stage of their life, and applying all of the leadership lessons and skills they have learned to their life after Lehigh.

To learn more about the Office of Student Leadership Development or for more information, visit their website by clicking here, call 8-6674 or send them an e-mail here.

--Sarah Cooke

Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2006

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