Leaders Training Leaders
Leadership comes in many shapes, forms, permutations and ages and it can be introduced in many ways. For example, the UBC volunteer and “undeclared Arts” student with a passion for activism, trying to explain the concept to very young kids, Kindergarten to Grade Four, and why it could be a career choice.
Clare Yow laughs: “It wasn’t something you’d think would come up, when talking about occupations with a child that young.”
It goes both ways. Helping the volunteer UBC students to, among other things, simplify big concepts such as international relations and economics is part of Yow’s own training in adaptability and a core characteristic of leadership: “It was really an exercise in trying to adapt a topic for more mature students and make it understandable to that grade level.”
As enthused participants in the Community Learning Program (CLP), Yow and other UBC staff are part of a unique program designed to nurture and enhance their own innate leadership skills. That and learn how to mentor and lead the groups of UBC students doing volunteer work at local Vancouver elementary schools during the UBC Reading Week break.
For Yow and other UBC staff, the commitment is far longer than a mere week, but its effects could last many lifetimes.
CLP is a partnership between UBC Human Resources and the UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning. The six-month program starts with day-long workshops transitioning into active collaborations with the specified community projects. The future project leaders being trained to train the students and meanwhile, learn a lot about each other and themselves.
“It gives the participants the professional development opportunities to really look at themselves in respect to their strengths and values,” says Yow. “It allows them to explore leadership and foster everyone’s capacity for it.
“I never really thought about myself as a ‘leader’ but this program really brought me to a realization that everyone is a leader. Everyone leads from their own place, strength of experience and embodied knowledge.”
Alijhon Lorenzana is a second-year student in the Faculty of Arts who, along with fellow volunteer ‘student leader’ second-year Chemistry major Chirag Apte, worked with Yow to plan the Reading Week CLP and coordinate what Apte calls the creation and delivery of the “fantastic and insightful” presentations of the eight other UBC students at the three-day ‘career fair’ held at Lord Selkirk Annex elementary school.
Lorenzana says CLP is a winner in that the hands-on experiences “effectively connects students with their community” with the benefits running far deeper than what comes out of a book.
“From my personal experience and seeing what others have learned through this program, the CLP transposes students from the isolated ‘university bubble’ and places them in situations where they can engage with the ‘real’ world and from that experience, they gain a better understanding of themselves and their community.”
Leadership skills such as facilitating discussion between peers or helping motivate a group, working with budgets, organizing logistics and dealing with unexpected situations; for he and other UBC student volunteers, Lorenzana believes “the skills, the connections, the experience will be applicable to whatever career path we happen to choose to take.
“For me, it’s always been my goal to become an architect so I really see my experience in the CLP program as a student leader as a great learning experience in project management while still testing and pushing my creativity.”
Apte agrees. Not only did the CLP teach him to “play to my strengths” and learn to constructively consult with his team members, it might have changed his own career path.
Although teaching has always been of interest, Apte says “it was never a serious career goal until very recently.” Recently as in the career fair where he did a few “fun demos” to the enthralled youngsters.
The response was so enthused, so unexpected, it now has Apte thinking: “I like to imagine that the activity I organized in the school that day, could inspire a student to become a chemist/scientist 20 years into the future.”
In short, a possible life changer – not just for the kids but for Apte too.
“The fact that I had the ability to inspire dreams and spark interest in a group of elementary school students for chemistry, it’s made me seriously consider orienting my career around education in some manner or other.”
In all, 24 project leaders participated in the 2013-2014 CLP with 12 being UBC staff and graduate students. More than 300 UBC students participated in Reading Week projects at 14 locations, 13 of them Vancouver elementary schools.