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Learning to Lead – Even During a Pandemic

How can one make a difference in the world at 8:30 a.m. on a gray and dreary Friday?

The CALS undergraduate students who took part in the inaugural Learn to Lead or L2L program found out on Friday, March 26. They gathered at Rise Against Hunger, a non-profit dedicated to ending world hunger by 2030, to complete the last requirement in this new leadership program offered to CALS undergraduates – completing a service project. In less than two hours, the Learn to Lead students packaged 4,104 meals that will be sent to countries where people face long-term food insecurity. This small group raised $1350 to pay for the meals they packaged, and they worked together as a team to diligently meet their goal of packaging 4,000 meals within two hours.

The idea for Learn to Lead was cultivated out of research Rhonda Sutton, director of CALS Leadership Programs and Alyssa Degreenia, lecturer in the Agricultural Institute, conducted during the 2020 summer. Degreenia and Sutton collected information from ag-related employers about the types of skills they wanted to see in new college graduate hires. Based on the findings from this study, Sutton and Degreenia created the Learn to Lead program for undergraduate students. Learn to Lead is offered through the CALS Leadership Office, and its first group of participants included students from Animal Science, Agricultural Business Management, and Plant Biology. Despite the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students stayed the course and met via Zoom with Sutton and Degreenia over the fall and spring semesters.

The cohort of ten students met virtually during the 2020 fall and 2021 spring semesters to expand their insights into how they could strengthen their leadership skills. They gained self-awareness by taking the Emotional Quotient Inventory and the Strengthsfinder assessments. The students also learned how to ascertain their communication style as well as the communication styles of others. The different ways in which conflict is managed was also a focus of a session, and students discovered strategies for how to handle difficult conversations.

Between the fall and spring semesters, the students gathered on Zoom for some “holiday trivia” and a chance to compete in an “ugly sweater” contest. During the spring, the cohort engaged in topics on teamwork, accountability, responsibility, ethics, the authentic and servant leadership styles as well as how to be an exemplary leader. Throughout the academic year, the L2L students were assigned pairs of accountability partners where they discussed what they were learning and how they were applying the tools and information they gained from the sessions.

Dianna Miller, a junior in Animal Science and the student who headed up the fundraising efforts for the Rise Against Hunger service project, shared that when she signed up for Learn to Lead, she “truly had no idea what I was getting into. I will say, this has been one of the best decisions of my life. It isn’t easy to pinpoint the one thing that I have liked best about the program. I have learned so much invaluable knowledge that I will cherish for a very long time.”

“Overall, I loved being a part of the Learn to Lead Program and am glad I was one of the first students to do so,” Patrick Seijo, a sophomore Agricultural Business Management shared. “My favorite thing would have to be the positive attitudes that everyone had as we learned more together and collaborated despite the hardships we were all going through due to the pandemic.” And as for the service project, Nina Gierbolini, a senior in Animal Science who just got admitted to Ohio State University for vet school, said, “…this was so much fun and a great way to end our program.” Learn to Lead will be offered again in Fall 2021, and students will receive information soon about applying for this leadership program.