My research this summer focused on the growing need for leadership and life skills education in young people. The school I grew up attending prioritized leadership education, and I came to value that work over the years I was there. I think leadership can be taught, and that cultivating the leader in everyone helps them find fulfillment, improves their interactions with others, and positions them to change the world for the better. Programs such as the Laidlaw show us how important experiential learning, and particularly experiential learning that encourages students to flex their leadership muscle, is. The more students who receive this kind of training, the better, both for them and for the world.
My research allowed me to work with Professor Hitendra Wadhwa of the Columbia Business School; under his guidance, I looked at why the growing need for leadership and life skills education exists and how it impacts students and their performance. I read pieces from academics, educational change experts, and experts in the field of experiential education to understand how the university system fails students in educating the whole person, and I saw a trend emerging of scholars talking about missed opportunities to allow students to explore the spiritual and civic sides of their development. These are, of course, only two of many contributors to a larger trend, but I saw through my research the link between these failings of the traditional education pipeline and decreased productivity, mental health, job satisfaction, and other key markers.
Of course, the next question is then how to fix this problem. For this side of the project, I looked at other experiential education programs to see the key objectives they sought to accomplish. Although we’re looking to address this problem in a way that hasn’t been done before, learning how other programs cultivate ideation and collaboration between students and encourage students to push themselves out of their comfort zones into a place of growth and transformation was still key.
Finally, I thought about bringing this work out of the research realm and into a life and leadership skills fellowship. I delved into Professor Wadhwa’s writings and the lessons he teaches in his class Personal Leadership and Success, so as to better understand his leadership philosophy. From here, I was able to offer feedback on what leadership attributes undergraduate students are particularly attuned to and how best to use core principles and techniques from existing classes in a way that is engaging and effective for undergraduates. In this same area, I researched contemporary changemakers, people who’ve shown a commitment to changing themselves as well as the outside world, with a demonstrated love of and respect for all of humanity. Their stories should hopefully inspire young leaders and serve as guiding paths in their leadership journeys.
Now I’ve begun thinking about what this program would actually look like on the macro and micro scale. How can a day, a lesson, a year best be structured to equip the young changemakers of tomorrow, to make sure those spiritual and civic learning gaps are getting filled, and students are discovering themselves and their place in the world as agents of change?