Leadership Training

What Even is a Mentor??????

Being a mentor is something that honestly seems so complicated to me. What do I do with a mentee? When do I feed it? Water it? Take it for walks??? Okay I’m not that crazy but really like what does a mentor do? My mentor was literally everything for me. She was my best friend, my mom, my academic advisor, my personal counselor, etc. etc. I don’t really know how to be that.

After going through the mentor workshop, I realized one thing: you just have to be what your mentee needs. I was a disaster; I needed Morgan to be my lifeline. My mentee may need me to be their lifeline or they may just need me to be a cheerleader. Whatever it is that your mentee needs, that’s what your role as a mentor is. It doesn’t matter if you want to be best friends and take them everywhere and do everything with them, it is up to your mentee whether that is the relationship that they want. The catch is, you have to be the one to figure out what they want. You have to reach out to them and give them all of the tools to have access to the mentor they need and want. Really and truly, what I took away from the Mentor Workshop in LDR200L is that it is not about you anymore; it is about them.

Another realization that I had is that you can still get the mentor experience that you want even if it is not the mentee experience that your mentee wants. You can be a mentor to everyone. Maybe your mentee does not need you in the way that you want them to need you, but another mentee may need you the way that you want to be needed. You can be a mentor to everyone, not just your mentee. I think this is important to remember because you can get the experience that you want while also being the mentor that your mentee needs.

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Community, Leadership Development, Leadership Training

Special Olympics LEAD Team

As a special education major, you can assume that I am obsessed with Special Olympics. Special Olympics is a way for people with disabilities to be active and have fun in a setting that focuses on them and their personal achievements. Ever since my freshman year of high school I have been volunteering with Special Olympics. I’ve always known that there are events and games that I still have not yet experienced but what I didn’t know is that there were more opportunities for these students than just on the track, in the pool, on the slopes, or in the bowling alley.

As a Leadership Advancement Scholar, we are asked to join a LEAD Team through the Leadership Institute. We are given many options of which teams we would like to join based on what each teams focus is and what you are interested in. OBVIOUSLY when I was told that Special Olympics was one of the options that we had, I had my heart set on it. When people asked me what I put down as my choices as we had to choose three in case some filled up, I told them Special Olympics. When they said “what about the other two”, I literally said “I don’t know I just really want Special Olympics”. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done but truly I just have such a passion for this organization.

What I didn’t know about the Special Olympics LEAD Team was…well, pretty much everything. When I was told that I got the Special Olympics LEAD Team I was ecstatic. Then I realized I didn’t even know what we would be doing. I assumed we would be volunteering at the Special Olympics events and just helping out with whatever they needed. I was wrong and as much as I would have loved doing all of those things, I’m happy that I was wrong because it opened me up to so many new things.

The Special Olympics LEAD Team was focused on putting on a Leadership Conference for both students with and without disabilities. HOW SMART AND AWESOME IS THIS??? I would have never thought that Special Olympics would put on an event like this. I thought Special Olympics just hosted sporting events and competitions but I was so wrong and I was amazed by this.

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Sometimes I forget that not everyone sees themselves as leaders because I see everyone else in that way. Having a conference to show these students that they are leaders regardless of any restrictions that they may have is so important. These students have the ability to make such a difference in their communities and the lives around them but they need people to teach them what that looks like, how they can do that, and to simply encourage them and show them that they are capable of this and that is what this leadership conference is all about. The students went through several activities, lectures and sessions that taught them about different aspects of leadership and how it only takes one person to make a change.

My role in this conference was to be a guide during the day. I had a group of students that my partner and I were responsible for during the day. We would walk them to and from each session and help facilitate during their activities. The most important part of our job as guides was to encourage them and help them take away what they were supposed to from each session. Making sure that they were having fun and understood the purpose of each activity and how it applied to them in their communities and schools was vital to this conference being a success.

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What I took away from this was just as important as what the students took away. First of all I got so many new experiences through this lead team. I have worked with students with disabilities and without disabilities in so many different environments but never in one like this. Gaining this experience of facilitating and managing groups of students in this atmosphere was so new and exciting for me. It also reminded me that EVERYONE needs reminders that they have the power to do the things that they want to. Society can put stereotypes on people and groups and even the people that fall under these stereotypes and groups forget that the limitations put on them are false.. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what circumstances you have, you can make as big or little of a difference that you want. I grew up just knowing this but not everyone has that. This conference reminded me that everyone has those abilities but some people need reminders of that. As a leader in society and an advocate for those specifically with special needs it is my job to be the person to give them those reminders and the tools to be the best that they can.

This conference is so important and just shows that Special Olympics will never fail to amaze. From this conference I now know what kinds of things people should know about leadership and that there truly are no limitations for anyone who wants to be a leader. This was such an important experience as a future educator specifically for students with special needs and I can’t wait to continue instilling these ideas and experiences in the students and advocates of special education around me.

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Leadership Education, Leadership Training

Start With Why

In our LDR100 class, we were split into groups of about eight people and given a book to read and relate to our leadership experiences. We were then asked to do a presentation for our class to teach them what our book was about and demonstrate the things that we learned. Our book was about starting with a purpose and not just the product. We discussed starting with WHY you are doing something rather than what you are doing. To demonstrate this, we took videos of our friends and family discussing who their role models were and why. This taught that you pick your friends and family for who they are rather than what they do. You start with why they are your model.

“If we all take some responsibility to start with WHY and inspire others to do the same, then, together, we can change the world”. -Simon Sinek

In the book, Simon Sinek discussed the importance of the golden circle. The golden circle is a demonstration of how you should make decisions in order to be an effective leader. You start from the inside and move out. So, you start with why you want to do something. You move to how you’re going to do something, and then you figure out exactly what you are going to do. This is proven to be how successful businesses like Apple run their business. By using the idea of starting with why when working in groups, you will be a more effective leader in whatever it is you’re doing.

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Leadership Development, Leadership Training

Mentor/Mentee Retreat

As a freshman in college, there are many things to look forward to in the first weeks of school. As a Leadership Advancement Scholar, there are even more things to look forward to in your first few weeks of school and there is one thing that us Freshman talk about for weeks… Mentor/Mentee Retreat.

One of the really special things about LAS is the Mentor/Mentee pairings that you receive throughout your college career. When you get accepted into LAS as a senior in high school, there is a process set up so that every incoming freshman receives a mentor throughout your college career. As a sophomore, you will receive your own mentee to help guide through their years here at CMU. This is one of the most fun parts of LAS.

Within the first few weeks of being at CMU, the freshman and sophomore mentor/mentee pairs go on a retreat weekend to Eagle Village to get to know their mentor/mentee and learn how to work with and support each other. This experience is something that I know I will never forget and I’m so excited to take my mentee to next year.

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My mentor is Morgan Clark. Morgan and I are a special duo because we are pretty much a hot mess all of the time. I actually had the opportunity to hangout and get to know Morgan before the retreat which made my experience so much more fun because I was already comfortable with and loved Morgan. We discovered before retreat that we have awful luck and are both physically incapable of doing anything remotely athletic so we knew that retreat would be a struggle. The best part is that we were excited to do it anyways.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from Morgan at retreat and simply from having her in my life it is to push yourself. Like I said before, Morgan and I knew that we would struggle on most activities at retreat. I mean if it puts it in perspective for you, Morgan and I each counted 30+ bruises and scratches on our bodies after that weekend. But our motto was that if we were going to do bad, we might as well try our hardest. So yes, if there was a way to make any activity more difficult for us, we shrugged our sholders and and said “why not” even though there are a thousand reasons that two unathletic girls should not try to be athletic.

One way that Morgan and I pushed ourselves was rock climbing. I have not been rock climbing since age 6 and at gymnastics class.. I knew that this would not be easy. But we decided to do it anyways. And to make things better, we chose to tie ourselves together while climbing. If we’re going to go down hard, why not go down trying our hardest, am I right? The best part about this was that we actually didn’t fail. Morgan and I made it all the way to the top of the wall tied together. While it wasn’t easy and there were multiple times that the words “Morgan I literally can’t do it” came out of my mouth, Morgan continued to encourage me and help me figure out a way I could do it.

img_0030The next thing that we did that I’m still not quite sure how was “the wall”. The wall was an activity that we did with other mentor/mentee pairs where we have to get everyone over a giant wall using just our teammates. This may sound easy but let me tell ya…. no. While at this point Morgan and I had already said we don’t care what it is that we’re faced with this weekend, we’re trying everything, I really really did not think this one was going to happen. And to my surprise with these doubtful thoughts rolling through my head, Morgan volunteers to go first. This is a shining of example of where Morgan has taught me to step out of my comfort zone. Morgan knew how difficult this activity was in general but then she stepped out of her comfort zone and pushed herself to go first.

So if you ask me about my absolute most memorable moment from mentor mentee retreat, it would be the high ropes course. Morgan and I were both to say, at the least, scared as Hell. We tried to make jokes about it and laugh it out but lets be honest, nobody enjoys dangling in the air on cords trying to walk across thin ropes. So what did Morgan and I do? Well… we said we are already freaking out so why not just go all out and blindfold ourselves in the air too. Everyone told us how ridiculous we looked and how loud our screams were when we would fall because we could not see anything. We were also told good job for pushing ourselves to do things that we aren’t comfortable doing. I am extremely confident in saying that I would never have done that without Morgan and I’m so happy that we did. While there were times when being able to see would have helped us a lot, completing an obstacle successfully without seeing, I felt so accomplished doing something I never would have thought I could.

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One thing that Morgan and I tried that we didn’t necessarily excel in but I give us points for trying was the ladder in the high ropes course. The ladder was just a bunch of 4 by 4 pieces of wood hanging from cables in a ladder that dangled and swung from the ceiling. perfect-picWe saw it and, again, shrugged our shoulders and thought “why not”. There were 8 bars on this ladder from floor to ceiling. We made it to the fourth and while it was physically draining, our goal when starting was just to make it to the third bar. We really did almost give up. I mean really we sat on the third bar for twenty minutes contemplating attempting the next level. We then spent 30 minutes trying to get to the fourth. Then, when we decided that we had already exceeded our goals and wanted to go down, Morgan fell on the wrong side of the ladder and there was no way for us to get down except do it all over again so that her cord was on the right side of the ladder to be able to get down. Literally writing this blog right now I am laughing because we were so amused by the fact that we had to do it all over again that we just laughed for 10 minutes. We barely made it to the 4th level the first time.. how were we going to do it again.. Honestly this was a disaster and took way longer than it should have, but we did it. This taught me that when things go wrong, you laugh about it, and you pick yourself up and keep going. Although I think this ladder was where all 30+ bruises of ours came from and we were sore for the week following, this was the most fun part of mentor/mentee retreat.

I can honestly say that this was a weekend that I will never forget and I think that without this to start off my freshman year, I would not have had the same experience this first semester. I would not have pushed myself socially, academically, and physically in the ways that I have had I not learned from Morgan during the mentor/mentee retreat that I can literally do anything if I try.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” -Wayne Gretzky

 

Leadership Education, Leadership Training

Making a Connection

As a Freshman in LAS, we are taken to Central Michigan Universities Leadership Institute Connections Conference. The Connections Conference is held at Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City (yes, we did get to play in the water park).

Going into Connections I really and truly had no idea what to expect. I was thinking something along the lines of a High School Leadership Conference; we all get lanyards and get in groups of people we don’t know, it’s awkward for a minute but then we all get really comfortable doing different leadership activities together. While it was kind of like this, it was not exactly.

When we first got to Connections we all went to our rooms to settle in for a minute, and then we went to this big ballroom where we had an introduction from the Leadership Institute. After the introduction we split into groups based on the ballroom written on our name tags (this I predicted). In the session we discussed some things dealing with leadership on campus and connecting with new people. After this meeting we went back and had dinner at tables based on a different sticker on our name tag (I was still right about the name tag thing I’d like to remind you). At dinner we had conversation cards that we used to get to know the other people at our table. It was really nice to get to know new people on campus and the different things that they’re interested in. After dinner it was water park time.. My mentor, Morgan was unable to go her freshman year, so she came this year with my cohort. Morgan and I spent most of our time obsessing over all of the babies in the water park and walking back and forth from the water slides and the hot tub. We left the water park to get ice cream and shower before we had to be back at the ballroom for a pizza speed dating. Here we just ate pizza and walked around and talked to people that we didn’t know trying to make connections with each other whether it be about leadership or our personal interests. I really liked this because it pushed me out of my comfort zone to meet new people and learn about their interests and passions on campus. After pizza and speed dating, it was time for bed.

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On the second day we woke up and had breakfast and then began our speaking sessions. This was the part that I had never experienced before and I really enjoyed. At every other conference I’d been to, everyone had the same speakers and whoever the conference had was what you got. At connections, there were about 5 different speakers for each of the four sessions. You were allowed to choose whichever speaker you wanted to listen to based on your interests and what you though would be most beneficial for you. After the session was up, five entirely new speakers would arrive and you would pick out of those five who you wanted to see. I really liked this because you were able to pick the speaker that interested you and benefited you the most. A lot of topics I’ve listened to people speak on a million times so it was nice to have options of things I might not have heard about yet. After lunch and those four sessions were over we met back with our original groups to discuss some more things about leadership on campus and how we can apply the things that we’d learned to our roles on campus and in our leadership positions.

Ultimately what I took away from from the Connections Conference is how making connections with people is the best way to learn about and accept the things that we do not understand in our lives. Everyday we see things and lets be honest you wonder what the point of something is or who would ever want to do or have that. Why would anyone ever want to join a squirrel watching club? Who would ever actually want to do that? Good question….. Here’s what I learned: ask. Ask why people are interested in what they are, why they do what they do; you’ll be surprised how much sense that makes and what you may be interested in as well. Try to make connections with the people you think you have no connections with because you will be so surprised.

 

Leadership Development, Leadership Education, Leadership Training

The Spark in My Eyes

As Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. We all make the choices we make because to us, that is the best choice that we can make; that is the best you that you can be in that moment. The challenge we are all faced with daily is ‘is this it? Is this the best we can ever be’.

Let’s just be completely honest here; anyone who regularly attends leadership conferences rarely ever goes into it thinking that they will come out of it a new person with all of these new ideas and philosophies. Every conference pretty much hits the basic points in different ways; the importance of team work, identifying different leadership styles, communication, et cetera, et cetera. Here’s the reality of a leadership: you probably will not learn some great, brand new life changing idea by going to a conference, meeting, training or really anything. Here’s another reality: that does not mean that you are the best that you can be and you know all there is to know; you are never done growing.

I went into Spark Leadership with a pretty good idea of what to expect. First there would be an opening speaker that would motivate you to look deeper into the meaniimg_0518ng of the activities and things that you were about to do (BTW you did great as always, Dan Gaken). You would then get into smaller groups based on the information on your name tag (you know what I’m talking about, the one that always makes you feel a little bit more sophisticated than what you actually are) that you would spend the rest of the day with learning and growing in leadership. You would then do activities that are usually fun, scary, exciting, and frustrating all at the same time and debrief afterward about what you learned and took away from the activity. After having fun with your new friends you would have another speaker or two to remind you of the ways that these new skills can be exemplified in your daily life. At the end you would get your goodies (tshirts are my favorite), fill out some last minute surveys or paperwork for the conference, and say your goodbyes to the people you spent the day with. For anyone that attended Spark Leadership or really any kind of conference or training can probably back me up in saying that this is pretty average. Anyone who has ever been can also say that you will always come out better than what you started regardless of the numerous times you’ve already done any of the activities or heard any of the speakers.

I believe that you learn more from the people whom you go through the activities with than anything. People are different and this shines within leadership. People have different strengths and weaknesses. You are not the best at everything. For a competitive overachiever, this is something that I still struggle to accept and remind myself of everyday. Trainings like Spark Leadership remind me that THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. How lucky am I to be able to learn something from every single person I meet, in an environment where everyone is a stranger? There are endless opportunities to learn from others’ strengths and weaknesses at Spark Leadership and this is my absolute favorite part of anything ‘leadership’.

If you take anything from this blog, please take this: you will never grow to your full potential if you cannot be honest with yourself. Self reflection is a key part in learning and this is one of the biggest things that I took away from Spark Leadership. Look at yourself in the beginning and see your strengths; appreciate them and utilize them. Then, look at your weaknesses and embrace them. Embrace them in everything you can. A leadership training is meant to push those weaknesses and make you better. If you cannot look at yourself and say “okay, this is what I need to be better at”, how will you know when to push yourself. Before Spark Leadership, I recognized that trust and stepping out of my comfort zone is my biggest weakness. I know the areas in which I am good at and I like to stick to them. I am good at giving instruction, I am good at seeing all sides of a situation, I am good at taking charge. But what happens when I choose to ignore those things? What happens when I choose to embrace my weaknesses? Well, my weaknesses become stronger. At Spark Leadership we did an activity where we all had a partner. One of us was blindfolded and one was not. We were told that we were to go through this obstacle course but we were not told that it was filled with mouse traps (yes, they were real and set), randomly placed desks, creepy music, and the noise of random traps going off with our partner. The partner that was not blindfolded had to lead the other through the course without touching them but if they touched any of the obstacles they had to start over. Normally I would have jumped to the role of leading the partner through the course. I had no idea what the course looked like, I did not know my partner, and I had faith that I would be able to lead her easily through the course. Instead of doing this, I asked to be the one blindfolded. This scared me. Bad. I did not know what to expect of the course, who this girl was, or like the fact that I would not be able to see. I chose to do this because before the training I recognized that this was where my weaknesses lay. This is where I wanted to improve my abilities. Being able to recognize that I am not very good at these things and being able to push myself to improve on them is how you get the most out of anything. At Spark Leadership I stepped out of my comfort zone and improved myself because I was able to recognize my own weaknesses.

So yes, every choice that we make is the best choice that we can make with the knowledge and experiences that we have been given. Everything that we do is out of the best parts of our hearts and this I truly believe. Even the most poor decisions are innocent; they are the decisions we make because that is what we have learned to be the best. The decisions that we make now that seem genius may seem silly in five years but right now that is the best we know. The difference between the best decisions and the worst decisions are simply the experiences and knowledge that we have gained. Spark Leadership is one of the experiences that I have taken advantage of to become the best me that I can be.