• Leadership at UChicago: Putting Theory into Practice

    Applying knowledge and gaining experience through the Center for Leadership and Involvement

By Nicola Brown
Photos by Christine Otte
February 5, 2015

It all starts with a question: What does leadership mean to you?

Asked daily at the Center for Leadership and Involvement, a place focused on making sure that students have space to explore their roles as members and leaders of RSOs, it’s a powerful question. Through the Center’s leadership skills programs in the areas of communication, budgeting, and conflict mediation, today’s student leaders are learning to be the world’s future leaders.

For Patrick Mucerino, a fourth-year in the college working at the Center as a peer advisor, leadership means helping others in the management of their RSOs. He and other peer advisors serve as a source of assistance for smaller RSOs on campus. Right now, for example, he is helping an organization plan a conference. He is their consultant on everything, from how to get resources from the University to all the nitty-gritty details of coordinating an event.

“It’s really meant for any type of student, regardless of their level in the college, regardless of their level of leadership,” Mucerino says of the resources provided to student leaders at the Center.

“Leadership is for everybody and it’s not just a title.” 
— Derek Bundy, Student Activities Advisor

The focus on building leadership skills and encouraging all sorts of student involvement permeates every level of the Center staff.

“Many people assume that leadership is a title or position,” says Derek Bundy, a Student Activities Advisor. “The Center goes to work to change that perception. Leadership is for everybody and it’s not just a title.”

Recently, the Center was renamed – it was formerly the Office of the Reynolds Club & Student Activities – and the basement of the Reynolds Club got a makeover. With bright new furniture and plenty of room for groups to meet, the Center has created an engaging new physical space for students to get together, as well as an opportunity to build a community and learn a few things outside of the classroom.

The idea behind this is that the classroom supplies the theory and the Center supplies the space, training, and practice. It allows students to see how they can apply the things they learn in the lab or discussion section to real life leadership situations.

Sarah Cunningham, Senior Director for Student Life and Assistant Dean of Students in the University, thinks that it’s often through their co-curricular activities that students are able to take risks and experiment in order to fine tune skills that will be applicable throughout their lives. It’s in these leadership positions, she says, that students get to work on their communication and networking abilities, things that they wouldn’t necessarily practice while sitting in a lecture hall.

“I’ve had the absolute pleasure and honor of working with a graduate student the last few years who actually joined Student Government to work on some of those things because they weren’t going to get them from their academic program,” says Cunningham. “Because of their experiences and the skills they’ve developed, they’re actually looking at jobs in consulting now.”

The ultimate goal of the Center is to provide students with a holistic learning experience during their time at UChicago that makes them strong candidates after graduation, whatever they decide to do. What students learn in the classroom is one part of the equation, and the communications expertise they gain through Center-sponsored programs such as A Way With Words, the time management skills they learn while balancing school and RSO responsibilities, and budgeting training is all the rest.

“Learning outside of the classroom is just as important as learning inside the classroom,” says Jamila Anderson, a Student Involvement Advisor. “Because once they get out into the real world, they’re going to have to do this as well.”

Or as Bundy puts it: “The degree is the sum of your experiences, not just one of them.”