This past weekend, approximately 75 students from across Yale’s campus attended a selective program in which they learned how to apply leadership skills to roles within the University and beyond.
The Student Leadership Forum, which ran from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, was planned by the Association of Yale Alumni and Students and Alumni of Yale and invited student leaders from both Yale College and Yale’s graduate schools. The conference, which took place at the Graduate Club in New Haven, attracted students representing over 200 student organizations on campus. The students — who were either invited or nominated to attend based on their past campus leadership, or applied to the program independently — gathered for 11 hours to attend workshops and listen to a handful of guest speakers.
“We started doing [these conferences] in January of 2012 and got an overwhelming response from the student community,” said Stephen Blum ’74, senior director of strategic initiatives at the AYA and the main coordinator of the conference. “There was a hunger for leadership.”
Although he expressed regret that the leadership conferences could not run for a longer period of time or reach a larger audience, Blum added that these weekends mark the first time that the AYA has offered student-leadership training workshops similar in format to those offered to alumni.
After an introductory dinner and informal reception on Friday evening, conference attendees listened to speeches from administrators, alumni and faculty members on how students can become better leaders in the Yale community and beyond.
After each speech, students broke into groups of 12 and discussed the hurdles and responsibilities they face as leaders on campus.
Some of the difficulties mentioned by student leaders include having to coordinate last-minute plans or direct friends in a work environment, said Josh Clapper ’16, one attendee of the conference.
After each group discussion, the students participated in open sessions, moderated by either Blum or AYA Director Mark Dollhopf ’77, that expanded on their earlier discussions.
Jessica Sager LAW ’99, the first speaker to address the attendees, spoke about the unusual path she took toward cofounding a Connecticut-based nonprofit that provides childcare to low-income working families. After graduating from Barnard College with a theater degree in 1994, Sager worked as a middle-school drama teacher before attending Yale Law School, working in corporate law and eventually switching to the nonprofit sector. Leaders should be willing to constantly change direction, Sager said.
“One lesson I’ll definitely take away from [Sager’s talk] was the value of perseverance,” Clapper said, adding that Sager said she called one landlord in New Haven every day for three months straight until she finally acquired an apartment that she could use for her non-profit.
Ko-Yung Tung, a senior research scholar at the law school, spoke about the importance of luck in becoming a leader. Tung’s speech referred heavily to a number of readings and texts that the conference attendees were asked to read in preparation for the weekend. After recounting his experience entering Harvard expecting to be a physics major and then turning to law, Tung urged students to pursue the things that they love.
The youngest speaker of the day, Andrew Klaber ’04 told students that he unexpectedly received an internship offer from a prestigious hedge fund after writing a personal letter asking for a 20-minute meeting, despite being an atypical candidate. Students make their own opportunities to become leaders by taking risks and being confident in themselves, Klaber said.
“He was very candid and probably the most relatable speaker,” said Sanam Rastegar ’16, adding that the crowd seemed sympathetic to Klaber partly because he openly spoke of how his career hindered him from having more of a personal life.
Linda Lorimer, University vice president for global and strategic initiatives and the last speaker of the conference, began her talk by playing a short recording of jazz music. Using the song as a reference point throughout the speech, Lorimer told the audience that students can still be leaders of groups on campus without having an official title, just as conductors are not the only leaders of music groups.
All nine students interviewed said that they enjoyed the conference and hope that similar leadership activities will be planned in the future.
“I have started thinking about my life and my leadership roles as more fluid and flowing from one aspect of my life to the next,” said Theresa Bailey ’14, adding that she decided to apply for the conference after enrolling in a class on strategic planning and leadership, which encouraged her to study the subject in a context outside of the classroom.
This weekend’s conference is the sixth that has been held since January 2012.