If you are a MIT student looking for opportunities to make valuable connections and become a better leader, you belong in the Community Catalyst Leadership Program. CCLP is an organization that pairs students with MIT alumni who serve as their coach from sophomore to senior year. Through monthly meetings and workshops, students are able to develop leadership skills tailored to their personal and professional development goals.
The organization, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, was started in 2007. The Alumni Association, the Student Activities Office, and MIT alumnus Alan Spoon ’73 worked together and brought the idea to life. As member of a former visiting committee for student life, he observed many different student life organizations and noticed that “there’s a variety of opportunities and challenges that those organizations face given that they’re student-run,” he said. “The question then in my mind was, ‘What can we do to accelerate and dramatically improve their effectiveness in the leadership responsibilities that they already have?’”
CCLP does exactly that. The main component of the organization is monthly meetings between students and their mentors. Leah Flynn Gallant, assistant dean and director of Student Leadership and Engagement Programs, explained that these meetings can be whatever students want them to be. “We have students and coaches who meet to talk through startup ideas. We have coaches and students who each read a book every month and then come together to talk about it,” she said. “And then we have students and coaches who have pretty traditional relationships where they talk through leadership challenges with their on-campus extracurricular club, or challenges that they may have being a leader in the classroom or lab.”
Joining CCLP can be a great way to feel more comfortable on campus by becoming part of a supportive community. “If you are a student who is maybe still looking for the place where you feel most comfortable at MIT, something that will really set you up for career and academic success, an opportunity to work closely with an MIT alum and gain access to a broader network of alumni living in the Boston area at MIT, CCLP is a great gateway for those kinds of connections,” explained Elizabeth Thompson, assistant director for Student Activities and Leadership. Gallant describes the organization as a team. “I think that we move so quickly here at MIT--CCLP slows it down a bit, in terms of really being able to reflect on your growth as a leader,” she explained, “and things that you need to continue to think about in terms of your areas of weakness and strengths and what you can do better as a leader.”
Charlotte Keeley, a biological engineering major and a recent graduate, shared that CCLP was incredibly helpful to her during her time as a student. “Getting the opportunity to talk to someone who is older, who has gone through MIT, who is a leader themselves in their field, and to get advice from them is incredibly valuable,” she said. “To take some time to step outside the MIT bubble, kind of lay your problems out in front of them, talk it through, it’s a great way to stay organized and to help move forward productively.”
Amelia Bryan, a senior in mechanical engineering, explained that even if you don’t necessarily view yourself as a leader, CCLP is helpful in grasping those skills that will be helpful to you in any situation. “At the very least, what you’re getting is really monthly sessions that teach you really important life skills,” she said. “Most people are also getting a wonderful coach who’s going to support you and going to kind of be your cheerleader in a corner but also help you make realistic choices that […] you’re actually thinking through and strategizing.”
Spoon revealed that his favorite thing about the organization is watching students grow throughout the years. “It’s really heartening,” he said. “I think back to when we first met 18 months or two years ago, and where they are now and what their career plan is and what they’re trying to do to have a significant impact on the world around them or the world at large… that gift keeps giving every year.” Many students who go through CCLP even come back as mentors, creating an ongoing circle of community.
Spoon’s final words of advice to potential new student members? “Do you want to accelerate your ability to contribute? This is a great place to get going.”
Written by Nicole Cooper. Video by Stephanie Tran
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