Growing Up in the Leadership Institute

For six of the last seven years, I’ve grown up in CMU’s Leadership Institute. I’ve gone from a first-year Leader Advancement Scholar to a Graduate Assistant and my journey (for now) has come to an end. I grew up in the LI  – from a 17 year old kid to a 24 year old young professional seeking the next opportunity that life presents.

My experience culminates with a program that set the stage for what my life would become. At the end of my first year (2011), I attended the LeaderShape Institute, where I was challenged to clarify my core values, discuss what would be possible to achieve, and determine what impact I wanted to make on the world around me. In the most cliche way possible, the LeaderShape Institute has served as the beginning and ending of my time at CMU. As a member of the faculty this year’s Institute, it serves as a personal ending and beginning.

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Standing alongside 140 people asking what can we do to make the world better? How can we Live in Possibility? How can we build a more Just, Caring, and Thriving world that is a place for everyone? I am deeply thankful that I have been given the chance to ask myself those questions once more before I enter the professional world. How can I enact the vision I wrote down several years ago? How has that vision changed? How have I changed? What have I achieved and what is left to do?

What comes next for me is a life of seeing what’s possible, of building/maintaining meaningful and healthy relationships, as well as doing work that positively affects the lives of others. Though I may have already carried that in me, CMU’s Leadership Institute pulled it out of me. My life is immensely better because of the people, experiences, and wisdom gained from being part of the Leadership Institute.

There are so many people to thank, and to each and every single one of you – Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I will carry with me the lessons, love, kindness, and memories that you have shared with me.

When the best leader’s work is done, the people will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’

In 2015, I rejoined the Leadership Institute as a Graduate Student charged with the mission to coordinate leadership programs. This meant I would work with undergraduate student coordinators who would help build and implement leadership programs for students all across CMU’s campus.

When I arrived, CMU’s Leadership Institute was facing a tipping point. It was time to change and much of what we did would need to change as well; not in spirt because at its core the LI was staying the same – prompting students to develop into ethical leaders who would go out to impact our campus community, as well as our local, national, and international communities. What was changing was how we did that.

One program in particular was evolving – risk, change, uncertain, and a belief that it could be made better. Jesi Ekonen, David Walter, and Natalie Woods had transformed what used to be the Alpha Leadership Program into what would become the Spark Leadership Series. I arrived as this first iteration had be completed. Two semesters of testing occurred and we found great success. We offered the opportunity to more students than we had previously, we refined our method and messages. By all accounts it was successful, but we weren’t satisfied.

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Within the existing framework, we found that a four-week program was no longer conducive to our calendar. We’d recently added Catalyst – a LeaderShape Program, the Academic Calendar didn’t allow for much flexibility, and eventually we’d run right into another program. We’d risk over-programming students by keeping Spark the same. So we took another calculated risk. We changed Spark from four weeks to one day.

This took some maneuvering and creativity. After yesterday, we found what we were looking for. A program that could offered multiple times in a semester to a variety of audiences presented in a way that was engaging, refined, and efficient. That is in part to some very important people. My undergraduate coordinators: David Walter, Amanda Yats, and Jordyn Salerno.

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In an organic process that played to one another’s strengths, each of them took on a role that allowed them to become the best version of a Spark Coordinator – David possesses an immense amount of creativity, but also the control to produce amazing material. This is one of David’s greatest talents. One area in which I’ve seen him grow tremendously is in his ability to present material with confidence, certainty, and with great passion. His understanding of the mission, purpose, and direction of Spark has come with time and commitment. We’ll be sad to see him move on to his next journey come May. If there were awards for our office and program, David would receive the Spark award for passion, commitment, and creativity.

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Amanda Yats, aside from a printer malfunction (she’ll understand that one), made this event happen behind the scenes. Her ability to coordinate an event is as professional as it gets. She spent months make sure that rooms were reserved, catering was ordered and adjusted, and that all physical materials that participants receive were creative and without error. Without her efforts, the day would simply not be possible. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Amanda would receive the Heart and Soul of award.

Jordyn Salerno is a Grad Assistant’s dream coordinator because she knows how to get people organized and in the same place. There is another important group that is absolutely necessary for Spark and those are the Spark facilitators. Jordyn spent last semester and many day over her own winter break coordinating the selection and training of facilitators. Without question, her work led to one of the most cohesive facilitator teams the LI has ever had. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Jordyn would receive the Leadership Award, because her efforts resulted in the creation of more leaders.

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Together, the Spark Coordinators provided a transformative experience that has undoubtedly helped students begin their journey to discover and manifest their leadership potential. That is truly remarkable.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental with graduation looming and I’ll have to walk out of this position in a few months. But maybe, it’s more than sentimentality – maybe it is the understanding that this program could run without now because of how strong my team is. Either way, I am deeply thankful for their work, and more than that, I hold a great sense of pride in their ability to affect the lives of others who are beginning their leadership journey.

When Tuesday Feels Like Monday?

Ever felt like the week was dragging on? Find yourself feeling that first wave of burnout starting to hit? Don’t worry! You aren’t alone in that feeling. If you are in the US, you are probably falling victim to the “busy” culture. Busy culture is when we constantly tell ourselves and others that we are busy, that we have a lot going on, or that we do not have time for anything.

Here are five tips to get over the hump and practice resilience in the face of burnout.

Number 1: Take time to do something you actually enjoy doing. “Whoa Vince! You are saying that I have to stop being busy for a few seconds to do something I enjoy? I don’t have time for that.” Take 10 minutes out of your day to do something you enjoy. Scroll through Instagram. Go for a walk. Read that article you have been meaning to read. Get on a call with a loved one. Start with ten minutes and work your way up to a half hour.

Number 2: Stop saying that you are busy. The more you say it, the more your body feels it. You will get to the end of some days and feel infinitely more exhausted than others because of four words. “I am so busy.” Even writing that sentence felt draining. Find other ways to tell people that the last few weeks have been stressful. Also, talk about what successes you’ve had during this stressful time. Interject some positive outcomes into your conversations to let people know that your hard work is paying off.

Number 3: Stop Procrastinating during busy times. If you have deadlines to meet, projects to complete, and a variety of other tasks to finish, work on them. Set aside specific times to actually complete tasks. It will reduce stress and boost morale. Checking items off the To-Do List is one of the most satisfying feeling in the world – BTW.

Number 4: Set your intentions. I was gifted a notepad that is called the Daily Intention Tracker. My day is more productive if I fill out the notepad when I first arrive at the office. Writing intentions allows me to clearly articulate what I want to achieve each day. Putting my intentions on paper really helps me focus my energy on what I need to do. This practices keeps me from living passively and letting the day pass me by.

Number 5: Eat, Sleep, Shower, Repeat (Exercise too. – if that’s your thing). These activities are necessities and need to be prioritized into your daily schedule if you are feeling stressed. Eat an uninterrupted meal, which means no work, no texting, and no rushing. SLOW DOWN and taste your food. Sleep as much as you can. Shower – you’ll feel better and everyone will like you more. Do it all over again. Exercise can also help you destress and refocus on your priorities.

When I get to a point of being “busy” whether real or perceived, I get stressed. My eating habits go to shit. The quality of my work dips. Finding balance and taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to pump some energy back into your bones. Practice these tips and you’ll be well on your way to being back at your best. Happy Tuesday!

One Year of Blogging – Number 50

This is blog number 50! I started using The Big Picture to reflect on my experiences a year ago this month. It’s amazing to think about all that has happened in a year’s time and to see it backwards by revisiting certain posts. Some highlights are My Life or Master of None, in which I compare my life with a Netflix Series staring Aziz Ansari, What do you want to be when you grow up?, which focuses on navigating life as a young professional and developing skill to land a job you want, and the recent Office Spotlights.

For this post, I want to talk about the benefits of blogging:

  1. My writing has become more precise and focused. Blogging has been a great tool to practice writing without pressure. I can write at my own pace, revisit thoughts, and make edits after taking a step away from it. Is my writing perfect now? Not particularly, but it has gotten significantly better. Some people are gifted writers. I am not one of them, but that doesn’t stop me from practicing. Progress not perfection is my current mindset.
  2. Reflection is immensely important for learning. I have learned many lessons hours, days, weeks, and even months after having experienced some event, taking a class, or participating in an adventure. Quiet, intentional reflection leads to a deeper understanding of some concepts, a heighten sense of self-awareness, and a strong connection to what I experience. It is one thing to take in new information. It is another to process the information so it can be applied later. (It’s also one of my favorite activities as an introvert.)
  3. Stories. Stories. Stories. Storytelling is powerful! I look back on some of my blogs and laugh my heart out. I look back on others and feel a sense of contentment because of how far I have come. While I have gotten better at storytelling, I must say I have a long way to go before I have mastered this skill. Stories bridge the past with the future, which allows us to revisit moments that are important to us. This was a lesson learned from a friend and mentor, Carlos Cortes.
  4. Lastly, I’ve learned that blogging is a simple way to connect with people. There is a human element to many of my posts and often times they serve as a mirror to what others may have experienced or are currently experiencing. Making simple, yet meaningful connections that are rooted in authenticity is deeply important to me. Being able to do that through blogging is an avenue that is only just opening for me. I’m excited to see where it leads!

Here’s to one year writing for The Big Picture.

 

Office Spotlight – Dan Gaken

I listened to the Cubs fight song while writing this if that tells you anything about Dan Gaken. Last night the Cubs moved onto the World Series for the first time since 1945. History was made; much like what has been achieved under the leadership of Dan Gaken.

Over the years, Dan has served as a mentor, supporter, champion, and advisor to many students across the country. Though he gets to call CMU home, Dan has done some tremendous things for the lives of students around the United States. From the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) ESPN speech to the HEEYYYYYY LAS yell to get everyone’s attention, Dan has stewarded the resources and energy of CMU’s Leadership Institute for nearly 20 years. He’s not old. He just started early.

Much of that time as an individual professional staff member with the help of students and volunteers. Because of his commitment and effort, CMU has truly dedicated support and resources to giving every student on campus the opportunity to discover the leader within and to gain the skills to be their best. I’ve been around long enough (not that long) to see the office increase from two professional staff to the current seven. Much of that is because of the compelling arguments, the unrecognized humble service (thanks for that term Denny), and the consistent belief that leadership is for everyone.

In the slide show, you’ll only see one photo of him at work because he as has a balanced life. He and his partner Erin have a baby girl and a bigggg puppy, Wrigley. Our team in the Leadership Institute is much more than that. We’re a family committed to empowering students to give a damn about the world and making it better. We get to do that because of the vision casted by Dan Gaken and all the work that came before we showed up. Thanks for all you do, Dan.

 

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Dan is the Director of CMU’s Leadership Institute, a Cubs Fan, Husband and Dad, and a Wrigley enthusiast.

Office Spotlight – Ellen Wehrman

Today’s Office Spotlight is for the cool aunt that everyone wants to talk to at holidays. The one who looks out for your best interests, but also gives you candy before dinner. Ellen Wehrman joined the Leadership Institute team a little over a year ago and she’s been on a roll since the start.

Ellen is passionate about her husband and kids, sharing desserts, and assessment. I’ve never seen anyone more excited about finding new and INTERESTING ways to gather data and figure out what to do with it. Ellen has also served as a guiding voice for me as a young professional. As one who is passionate about assessment, you can imagine she is passionate about feedback as well. As a young professional with a lot of passion, you can imagine how enthusiastic I am to share my thoughts and ideas. Basically, I need a lot of feedback to flush out my ideas fully.

Ellen has given me tips and coaching on how to balance listening and sharing ideas. She coached me to see that there is power in letting people get their ideas out fully before finishing someone’s sentence or chiming in every few minutes. (I promise it’s the passionate in me). Much like her coaching, Ellen follows this to a T and is a phenomenal listener and coach. It’s been great to have you in the office Ellen and have you as a mentor and coach. We also appreciate the treats, desserts, and candy before lunch!

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Ellen is an Assistant Director in CMU’s Leadership Institute.

Office Spotlight – Jesi Ekonen

Etsy Shops. Just Follow Your Art. Associate Director. Jesi is the creative genius who doubles as a Student Affairs professional who basically does six jobs. This spotlight is particularly special because I’ve known Jesi for a little over six years now. She interviewed me for LAS Competition Day in 2010.

Knowing Jesi has been a privilege. From the great conversations, to the times she’s pushed me to become a better professional, and all fun and funny moments in between, Jesi has been a tremendous mentor and friend over the years. She loves Dan Ekonen, Betty White and Mr. Jones. She’s wildly talented in the realms of art, whit, and sarcasm, which resulted in the creation of Just Follow Your Art (http://etsy.me/2eqYyTC). And she’s just cool.

Jesi and I share a love of wine/champagne, leadership development, all things potato, and just giving a damn about making the world better in big and small ways. Knowing Jesi has helped me become more creative, professional, and thoughtful. I’ve been lucky enough to work with you, learn from you, and just celebrate good times. Thank you for all you do, Jesi.

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Jesi Ekonen is the Associate Director of the Leadership Institute at Central Michigan University

Office Spotlight – Hannah Long

From her love of plants to veggie burgers (irony…am I right?), Hannah is a character in the best way! She adds a lightheartedness to the office that keeps us on our toes. Hannah and I had the pleasure of working together during her last undergraduate semester with the Ignite Leadership Program (Miranda Joynt was her co-coordinator).

Last year we shared weekly meetings and now we share the Grave (Grad Cave) w/FeFe. Though we’ll only get one year as grad students together, we’ll definitely have many memories to share. One of those memories is when my mom decided to give her a plant, which happened this week.

If you know Hannah, you know that fun, bulldogs, and bird doubles are not to be missed. That’s the energy she brings to our team. She keeps us fun as well as productive. She stepped into the graduate assistant role right away took off running (not literally). She’s been a great friend and team member in the Leadership Institute and we’re lucky to have her.

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Hannah Long is a graduate assistant in CMU’s Leadership Institute completing her first year of graduate school in the Master’s of Arts in Higher Education Administration.

 

Office Spotlight – Jeremy Heinlein

Superman is better… for the record, but we both can appreciate The Flash, Star Wars, conversations about community, culture, positive change, and just about anything (including Batman I guess). We also share a passion for Mexican food, sushi, and chicken and waffles. (Not all at the same time – that would be a bit excessive).

Have you heard of Kip Dangerfield (Jeremy’s LAS Competition Day Alter-Ego)? Well I didn’t either until I returned to CMU for grad school. Jeremy is a creative, passionate individual who adds positive energy to any room. If you’ve seen Parks and Rec, Jeremy is a blend of Chris Traeger and Tom Haverford; positive, excited and up for just about anything. In many exchanges over the last year, Jeremy and I have come up with ideas for a Roman-like communication forum to discuss and debate ideas, potato theme restaurants (copyright pending), and intricate future endeavors.

If you know Jeremy, you know you can always count on a positive environment with lots of laughs, movie trailers, and a willingness to help out whenever. Jeremy’s come in the clutch many of times when putting together programs for the Leadership Institute and Special Olympics. Lastly, I admire Jeremy’s admiration for Noelle, his fiancée, and how he treats her. You’re a stand up guy, my friend. So here’s to you, Jeremy and the many adventures to come.

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Jeremy is Executive Assistant in CMU’s Leadership Institute and is completing a Master’s of Art in Communication. He is a young professional seeking to make a positive impact on the world.

Office Spotlight – Sarah Fiorillo

From the Grad Coho (Grad Cohort) to the Grave (Grad Cave), Sarah Fiorillo has been as cool as they come. Do you need a friend that is weird, but in a cool way? What about one who challenges you to be better? Well that’s Sarah Fiorillo.

The first time I met Sarah was in a Small Group Communication class. She was in a group called Kitty Power. My group was less creative, and decided to be Incredibly Awesome. After that course, we never crossed paths again. That was until we both started grad school. Over the last year, Sarah and I have shared an office, bottles of wine, presentations, facilitator roles, classes, and roles in several murder mysteries thanks to Jeremy.

Sarah is a supportive individual who thrives in creative environments. From bouncing ideas off one another to Instagram photography, we’ve had some cool memories and lots of laughs. One semester stands between us and graduation. It’s been a good run FeFe. If you’re thinking about going to grad school, make sure you’ve got good people around you. It’ll make all the difference.

 

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Sarah is the Coordinator of Leader Advancement Scholarship for CMU’s Leadership Institute. She is pursuing a career in Higher Education.