First Year Program highlights leadership in annual event

Above, freshman class president Max Moran ‘16, helped host the 2013 Leadership 360 Conference. A part of The Vassar First Year Program, the event aims to welcome new students into the college community. By: Niki Alani Hrusa
On Monday, Feb. 11, Vassar’s student leaders came together in collaboration with Executive Director of the Campus Acitivites Office Terry Quinn and Assistant Director of Residential Wellness Terrence Hanlon, as well as freshmen class president Max Moran ’16, to host the 2013 Leadership 360 Conference. Held in the College Center Multi-Purpose Room, the conference was an opportunity for freshmen to talk and questions with their student leaders on campus.

“The event was made to highlight some of the different leadership positions and some of the opportunities for leadership that might not come to mind,” noted Terrence Hanlon, who is also the House Advisor for both Cushing and Noyes Houses.

The Leadership 360 conference is one component in the Vassar First Year Program. According to the Campus Life and Diversity Office, “The Vassar First Year Program (VFYP) seeks to ensure that each new student will feel welcomed into the Vassar community and encouraged to explore opportunities that will fulfill Vassar’s ideal of a richly satisfying personal and intellectual engagement.”

Other events that make up the First Year Program include Freshmen Orientation, Fall Convocation, and Freshmen 15. The Freshman 15 event, which is scheduled for April 24 and sponsored by the Freshman Class Council, will feature  three fifteen-minute reflections on the first year experience at Vassar.

Terry Quinn stressed that the event was organized with the freshman class in mind. “It was created to give an opportunity to first year students to meet some of the students from all the other classes who were involved in leadership on campus,” she noted.

The conference included current student and a few alumnae/i leaders on campus from a wide range of pursuits and areas of the college. Speakers held positions in areas such as the VSA, Campus Patrol, sports teams, House Team, Deans’ offices, and off-campus organizations. Most student leaders held more than one position in different areas.

The conference was organized in two parts. In the first, speakers sat in a semi-circle facing the students and answered question as a large group. Following a brief break for dinner, the conversation then moved to tables, where students had the opportunity to approach a few of the speakers at a time.

“I appreciated the dynamic of the event,” said Sarah King ’16. While she was expecting that panel speaking would take place, she valued being able to ask questions on a more personal level.

The goal of the program was to help students learn how they can become leaders on campus. Over the course of the night, freshmen learned many lessons directly from current and former leaders. Several speakers stressed the importance of pursuing one’s passions. Many also underlined the importance of staying committed to a cause and allowing oneself to make mistakes. Still others speakers spoke of the importance of checking in with oneself and making time for sleep and sanity.

King noted that she valued the tips offered by the speakers. She felt she could utilize the point that: it is okay to say ‘no.’  “A big thing that is forgotten is that you don’t have to do everything and that doesn’t make you a terrible person,” she stated.

One question about juggling double majors and leadership positions was discussed. Some speakers affirmed the importance of using calendars and making lists. Others asserted the importance of remaining calm under stress in order to complete tasks.

Matt Wheeler ‘12 mentioned the Academic Support and Learning Resources Specialist Karen Getter for students who need to improve their organization and time management. He suggested students make an appointment with Getter if they are struggling with completing daily assignments.

“If you care about everything that you are doing, academically and socially, you’ll be fine,” reassured Laura Kinter ’13, a double major in English and Film who spent one year abroad and has written a senior thesis.

A question about what qualities the student leaders should embody was also posed. Some student leaders listed passion, being able to take chances, persistence, and having the ability to step up to challenges as among the key traits required for roles of leadership.“If you put yourself in a leadership role you may find that you have the qualities [of a leader],” said Mariah Minigan ’13, who also works as an assistant to the Dean of the College.

President of the VSA, Jason Rubin ’13 admitted at one point, “It’s okay to be scared.” After this statement, students in the audience let out sighs of relief and some laughter.

The response to the night was markedly positive. One speaker, Zander Mrlik ’14, captain of the Men’s Soccer and Baseball teams and an assistant to the Office of the President, praised the event as a whole.

“It was terrific. They did a great job in bringing together people with a lot of different interests. Vassar is a school that fosters leaders in all aspects. I think continuing this process will continue that.”

President of the Class of 2015 Allison Ehrlich ’15, who was a member of the audience at the event the year before, said: “It was really exciting to come back and see freshman excited about what is going on, on campus.”

Mrlik went on to echo a sentiment felt by many leaders at the conference. “Freshmen have a huge impact on campus. For changes to occur there needs to be a voice behind them. I’m hoping that that voice will come from the people in this room.”

Ultimately, the conference generated excitement among attending first year students and served to demonstrate the seriousness with which Vassar takes student involvement.

First year student Lauren Garcia ’16, a writer for Contrast and member of Poder Latino, had a positive impression of the event. “I was president and leader of a lot of different organizations in high school,” she said. “Freshman year I was trying to get adjusted before getting super involved, so was is really nice to hear other people’s experiences. It seemed that if they can do it so can I.”

Mrlik concluded, “This college is about the students. Everybody recognizes that.”

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