Honing Future Leaders
Antwaun Gavins is a young African-American male, child of a single mom, and brother to10 siblings also trying to succeed in a sometimes difficult city.
A junior at John Jay College, Gavins, 20, looks forward to earning his bachelor's degree and then attending law school.
But he wants more than that. He wants to be a leader.
Leadership, Gavins and others say, is a quality that colleges must teach if they are going to be true training grounds for success.
Pushing that point of view has been Vice Chancellor Garrie W. Moore, who is now achieving his long-held goal of setting up a University-wide Leadership Academy. The Academy, Dr. Moore says, will transform the concept of higher education even as it offers practical methods for strengthening resumes and climbing organizational ladders. It will offer—through courses, student organizations and international conferences—the experiences and contacts long associated with those of the most ambitious students at Ivy League colleges.
"The research shows that students are leaving college unprepared in leadership training. My goal is for every student enrolled in CUNY to exit with solid leadership skills," said Vice Chancellor Moore. He added that he wants all campuses to teach basic leadership qualities, such as the ability to present oneself competently to large or small audiences, and the ability to lead others in professional undertakings. Moore says that these will one day be widely known hallmarks of a CUNY-educated woman or man. "The training, experience and research opportunities made available through the Academy will augment the in-classroom and other academic experiences of all of our students regardless of their major or academic standing," Moore said.
Nationally, in recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the development of leadership skills, and the need for such training is being stressed by the business, non-profit and academic spheres.
The colleges have been responding to that call, one by one. "All the colleges are doing something," said Dr. Joe-Joe McManus, who began working in February as executive director of the budding Leadership Academy. "At the very least they're doing retreats and, from there, there are even full-blown leadership academies on the campuses. And they're all doing remarkable leadership work. But the idea now is to bring together the best practices from the campuses and take them to another level."
The CUNY Leadership Academy will be based at new offices in the Metro Tech business and educational center in downtown Brooklyn and, initially, students will be chosen from nominations by college presidents and student affairs administrators. Later, after the Academy's web site is functioning, hopefully by next semester, there will be a student-generated application process, McManus said.
One key aspect of the new Academy will be a "co-curricular transcript," which will be like a resume of a student's outside activities. "It will capture what our students learn and what they otherwise gain as they participate in organizations and in Leadership Academy programs," Vice Chancellor Moore said. The transcripts will be used to demonstrate what she or he has gained beyond the classroom and "will serve to add value to the academic degree by demonstrating that our students are graduating from the University with experiences that are valuable to an employer and to a graduate school," he said.
But the University will go beyond just making the co-curricular transcript available to potential employers and graduate schools. It will use a social networking-type platform ("an academic version of Facebook," in McManus's words) that will help students build the knowledge and associations that will feed their extra-curricular involvement. The software should be up and running within a year and will be available to students who are involved in leadership programs, said McManus, who holds a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Florida A&M University.
Moore has been laying the foundation for the Leadership Academy during the past year. He arranged for more than a half-dozen students—including John Jay's Gavins—to attend The National Conference on Student Leadership, held last year in Orlando, Fla., where they joined other up-and-coming leaders from around the country and the world.
"It was an excellent experience," said Gavins, who said he learned an important, though paradoxical, truth about college life: The more you do, the more time you have. Gavins said he learned to convincingly tell other students that they will be better organized, better equipped and happier, if they got involved in groups like student government. "Before the conference, I did not know how to attract students to join a student group," he said, adding that he is also a member of the Law Society at John Jay.
These days, Gavins's leadership ambitions know few bounds. When he says he wants to be a leader, he means a leader of millions of people. "I want to be mayor of New York City," he says.
CUNY is planning to send students to a number of major student leadership conferences in the coming months, including the particularly well-regarded International Leadership Institute in Jordan. On a monthly basis, the Institute exposes a limited number of students from around the world to the latest thinking in areas such as global governance and environmental justice, McManus said.
Vice Chancellor Moore says that the business world in particular will welcome the University's new focus on leadership, and he expects that Wall Street will help in funding programs of the Academy. "I've met these folks who are well respected and financially stable leaders and they're saying basically, 'We want to help.'"
Moore would like to replicate business-oriented workshops of the kind now done at Baruch College, which stress practical knowledge and skills, such as the importance of body language in social settings, of staying current with the news, and of doing adequate research before meeting representatives of a company. Because he himself came up the hard way—from a childhood on a sharecropping farm in a tin-roofed home without electricity—Moore believes that all CUNY students are capable of fulfilling their dreams, no matter how ambitious.
At Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, that viewpoint is much appreciated. Senior Rahsaan Cummings says the Leadership Academy is very much needed, so that students like him can overcome the internal and external barriers to their goals. Cummings, who is 30, wants someday to have his own financial services company and at Medgar Evers he helped start a group—the Minority Investment Association—that teaches students how to invest wisely and profitably.
"In the Association, we learn how to make investments," through lectures from professors and other professionals, he said. Cummings participated in last year's National Conference on Student Leadership, and says it taught him a great deal.
The seminars and lectures "even taught me how to meet people. That was one of my weak areas, being in the public eye and introducing myself to people," Cummings said. He realizes that if he's going to succeed with his own business, he will have to improve his leadership skills. He is convinced more than ever that the University must impart such abilities to all of its students. "We need to understand how important it is to be a leader, and the traits you need to develop to be a leader—character, courage and charisma," he said.