Leadership Wash. U. style

| Regular Features Editor

Washington University students tend to be overachievers—we are always seeking out the advanced classes, finding lectures that we can squeeze into our schedules, taking on extra majors and minors, brainstorming business ideas, and, of course, searching for any and all leadership opportunities. As students, we are lucky to have so many resources and outlets for these overachieving tendencies; the University never fails to offer us ample leadership opportunities, including these three unique programs.

Leadership Summit

This is an overnight retreat for emerging leaders, specifically freshmen and sophomores, and occurs every fall.

The program focuses on helping students increase their knowledge of themselves and their passions, and guides them toward a foundational understanding of leadership, which they can use in their remaining years at the University.

“We want them to start thinking what it is they care about and then use their passions to get involved in leadership opportunities [on campus],” said Mike Saxvik, who works for the Office of Student Activities (OSA) as the coordinator for student involvement/programming leadership.

According to Saxvik, during the first day of the program, students are encouraged to look at themselves, their values and their previous experiences, and explore how these have shaped them as leaders.

Students also participate in a nationally recognized self-discovery evaluation called StrengthsQuest with exercises that highlight the importance of group dynamics and behaviors.

Redefining Community Experience (RCE)

The focus of this winter program is to examine leadership through the lenses of community, identity, diversity and social justice. Students spend time thinking about how their own identities and personal experiences shape them as leaders.

“Probably the most moving and powerful part of this retreat is when every student sits down and shares life stories with each other,” Saxvik said. “Sometimes it’s really sad, or it can also be really incredible. But all of their stories are so inspirational. It’s amazing what some students have been through, and it’s so great when they share those experiences with each other.”

Because of this community bonding aspect of the RCE retreat, long-lasting and trusting friendships are often one of the most valuable things that students take away from the program.

“It’s really important for student leaders to trust one another and understand each other, which RCE really promotes. Since these students are Wash. U.’s leaders, or future leaders, I think this part of the retreat is essential,” Saxvik said.

Students on the RCE retreat also discuss ways they can directly improve the University community, particularly concerning issues of diversity and social justice.

Because the RCE retreat forms a community of students with strong relationships, many participants are inspired to get involved in RCE again the following year, Saxvik said.


LeaderShape is an international nonprofit program that the University brings to campus every year through its LeaderShape retreat, which will be over spring break. Wash. U. is one of 60 national universities that works with LeaderShape on a regular basis.

Because it is such a large, developed program, the LeaderShape retreat curriculum is very thorough. The program was the initiative of several national leaders who studied leadership development and what leadership can look like for college students.

One of the strongest components of Wash. U.’s LeaderShape retreat is developing a personal vision—students are encouraged to define their goals clearly and to think about what they want to achieve. Discovering these individual goals is the first step to taking action and initiating positive changes on a global level.

“The main difference about LeaderShape is that it’s on a much bigger scale,” Saxvik said. “The other retreats tend to focus on leadership on the college campus, but this one really stretches the boundaries. I think it makes students think bigger, beyond themselves.”

How do I get involved?

Many people who attend these retreats were nominated by RAs, WUSAs and campus faculty. Each year, these people are asked to be on the lookout for emerging student leaders, and they can nominate students for specific programs. If you have been selected, you will receive an e-mail informing you of your nomination and your nominator. But even if you have not been nominated, the applications are open to all students interested in attending. Each program has an application form online, all of which can be found on the OSA website: http://www.get​involved.wustl.edu.

How will I benefit from participating?

First and foremost, each of these programs builds strong community relationships and a solid network of campus leaders.

Saxvik said students have overall been very happy with these programs.

“What they take away from these retreats really influences what they do with their time at Wash. U. and throughout their lives,” Saxvik said.

Senior DeAndra Nichols, who participated in all three retreats, agrees: “[These programs] helped me mold my vision of what I desired from WU, and then equipped me with a support network of like-minded friends to pursue those visions and find my place on campus.”

Nichols is best known on campus for The Stories Project, an initiative that began on the RCE trip. When students were sharing their life stories, Nichols was inspired to begin this project, and it has grown immensely since then.

Important information:

The Leadership Summit retreat was held over fall break and will not be offered again until fall 2010. The other two programs, however, are currently accepting applications on the OSA Web site. RCE is three days long, from Jan. 15-17, and LeaderShape is six days long, from March 6-11.

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