News Article

Empowering First-Year Students with the First-Year Leadership Experience

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January 21, 2021

This year has been full of twists, turns, and pivots from all members in the MIT community in the face of the ongoing pandemic. Department, labs and centers (DLCs) across the Institute have been steadfast on transitioning customary, in-person programming and tailoring them into a successful virtual experience. The Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement (SOLE), formerly known as the Student Activities Office, is no stranger to this in their reimagined virtual leadership programming called the First-Year Leadership Experience (FYLE).

The First-Year Leadership Experience is an opportunity for first-year MIT students to connect with their peers through a variety of workshops exploring their leadership styles and developing leadership skills. Workshops are grounded in self-reflection, building community with their peers, and engaging in activities that empower students to promote social change within MIT and the greater Cambridge community. “SOLE wanted to create a deeper and more impactful experience for first-year students within their leadership journeys at MIT,” says Jacklyn Liberman, associate director student activities and coordinator for leadership programs in SOLE. “The initial way of creating this impact was through this First-Year Leadership Experience workshop series where we help all first-years discover who they are, shape what kind of leader they want to be, and empower them to become social change leaders.”

The learning outcomes of FYLE are guided by three pillars; discovering who you are and your personal leadership; shaping your leadership within the MIT community; and empowering yourself to become a social change leader. Over the course of the fall semester, first-year undergraduate students have had the opportunity to participate in a number of virtual workshops and programming, including a lively discussion with the City of Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui on a variety of topics including diversity and inclusion in the community, developing leadership practices and practical advice on how to become a better, more influential leader.

Siddiqui, an immigrant from Karachi, Pakistan, spoke on her identity, race, religion, and socioeconomic status that have shaped her character, passions, and desires to give back to the community and how it’s impacted and influenced her own leadership experiences. “I think having these perspectives, these different peaks and valleys have provided me with a better understanding on ways to improve Cambridge’s agenda and the quality of life for our residents,” says Mayor Siddiqui.

"I loved the opportunity to get to speak with Mayor Siddiqui,” says Danielle Geathers, a MIT junior and president of the Undergraduate Association (UA) who facilitated the discussion with Mayor Siddiqui and first-year students. “She is an inspiring example of a political leader determined to give back to her community."

Additionally, in partnership with the Priscilla King Gray Service Center (PKG Center), the first-year leadership experience provided the opportunity for students to participate in a program called Methods of Social Changes, a series that focuses on the topics of education and allyship, protesting, leadership, and advocacy. The Methods of Social Change framework is provided by the Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact and comes from a visual tool that showcases that there are at least 12, if not more ways to do ‘social impact’ work, including everything from socially responsible daily behavior to community-informed research and even protests and demonstrations. By presenting so many methods, individuals  are able to understand as a community that making an impact on a social issue they care about – including difficult topics, like systemic racism or criminal justice reform – can look like so many different things.

The Methods of Social Change framework allows individuals to walk the talk of addressing systemic oppression from multiple angles and perspectives, using someone’s unique expertise and interests. It also allows individuals to time specific current events they are experiencing – like last summer’s social justice reckoning – and actually engage it using the tools and perspectives of multiple DLCs, including SOLE, the PKG Center, The Educational Justice Institute (TEJI), and others.

More plans and leadership program offerings are currently being developed for students to get involved in virtually in the spring semester, including the Personal Empowerment Series, a program that highlights areas of mindfulness, leading as an introvert, managing difficult conversations, financial planning, womxn in leadership, and more. Students who are interested in learning more can find more information on the SOLE website.

Written by Stephanie Tran, Photo courtesy Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement (SOLE)

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