Journal of Leadership and the Law

Reflections on the Leadership Academy: April 11, 2015

By Danielle Prongay

The Leadership Fellows program at Elon University School of Law is designed to infuse legal education and leadership development.  Students invited into the Leadership Fellows program demonstrate exceptional leadership through community, collegiate, military, or other leadership experiences, as well as academic achievement. Fellows have the opportunity to engage with leadership guests, but they also benefit from experiences that allow the leaders to practice and facilitate leadership. One of the staple programs hosted by the Leadership Fellows is the Leadership Academy.

The Leadership Academy is a day-long program designed to bring together student leaders from colleges in Guilford and Alamance counties.  The program opens with leadership skills development in the morning, provides an opportunity for students to talk to the group about the work they’re doing on their home campuses, and concludes with various small teamwork sessions in the afternoon in which students apply their leadership skills to current local challenges identified by the City of Greensboro.

On Saturday, April 11, 2015, the Elon Law Leadership Fellows Program hosted the Leadership Academy for undergraduate student leaders. The following universities were invited to send a delegation of four or five student leaders to participate: Elon University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Bennett College, Guilford College, Greensboro College, High Point University and North Carolina A&T. The Academy’s coordinators reached out to each university and asked the respective home institution’s leadership department or student life department invited each student that attended. The Fellows agreed upon a theme of community involvement and outreach for the undergraduate students, and the idea of “facilitating facilitators” for the law students. Thus, the law students led the students by participating in events as coaches and facilitating icebreakers.

Morning sessions

The morning sessions were designed and organized by the Leadership Fellows. One of the sessions, lead by Dr. Chris Leupold and Emily Seawell included a small group communication and strategy activity with competition. The group was given dry spaghetti, tape, a marshmallow and rope, and had to build the tallest structure possible.  The second activity, lead by Danielle Prongay and Chris Genheimer, was a large group activity that challenged communication by limiting sense and resources. The group was blindfolded and had to create a large-scale puzzle.

Afternoon Sessions

The program concludes with breakout sessions in the afternoon.  During these sessions, students applied their leadership skills to current local challenges identified by the City of Greensboro. The Leadership Fellows invited community leaders to conduct a session about projects within the community. These sessions included: City Beautification presented by Randal Romie & Daniel Smith of Greensboro Beautiful, Uniting Communities, Protecting the Vulnerable, and Civic Engagement through an LGBTQ Lens presented by Brenna Ragghianti (an Elon Law alumna), Executive Director Guilford Green Foundation, and Local Business & Entrepreneurship Community presented by Michael Norbury, Greensboro Entrepreneur.

The Leadership Fellows attended group meetings and contributed ideas, facilitated discussion and shared their passion for civic engagement and responsibility with the college students. The feedback and takeaway skills from the Fellows included positive feedback about an enhances ability to facilitate discussion and leading brainstorming initiatives around out-of-their comfort zone topics, an opportunity to provide expertise as a means of supporting students, practice assisting students process and understand root causes of community issues, an outlet to challenge themselves and other students embrace an opportunity to affect change and engage in civic responsibility and, in experiential learning at it’s finest, guide students through action planning, rather than studying how to action plan. A general theme from all of the feedback included the idea that the Academy provided a climate of engagement and positive energy.

The Academy was fortunate to have a participant from Greensboro College who matriculated at Elon Law this fall.  Andreas Mosby, Class of December 2017, enjoyed addressing local business and entrepreneurship problems with a Greensboro small-business owner. Mosby said:

Education systems are often structured on theoretical frameworks, however, the Academy exposed its participants to practical, real-world experiences.  In a society that revolves around the prevention and solving of problems, catalyzing theoretical knowledge, while honing practical experiences was an invaluable learning reinforcement. This opportunity has allowed me to view leadership through a variety of lenses. As future leaders in communities, we often will be solving problems not individually, but rather, together. The Academy taught me that in order to achieve a common goal, three C’s are imperative: consensus, collaboration, and confidence.

As the only Greensboro College participant in the Leadership Academy, Mosby was exposed to the greatest level of diversity amongst his peers, because he attended the event knowing no one. Most participants had previously formed relationships with one another, having worked and studied together at the same universities. “As a divergent participant, it was initially difficult to build consensus, however, once successful I was able to hone my learning agility skills with regards to diverse collaboration and attacking problems multi-facedly” Mosby said.  Mosby explained that the skills gained from the Academy have been directly applicable to his career as a law student. The skills have proven invaluable because, for example, the law school exposes students to a variety of diverse individuals: students, clients, professors, legal practitioners, and employers. The practical experience obtained in the Academy creates an environment where students are challenged to adapt and adjust accordingly, with new people in a new place, and teach students to thrive in any environment that can be new and intimidating.

Mosby felt that this experience was helpful in the academic setting as well: “When reading cases and addressing problems on an exam–in addition to my own opinion–I have trained myself to additionally ask, ‘what would Sebastian think of this problem,’ or ‘what steps would Susan take to prevent said problem?’” He has learned to think like others, or be aware of others views, and focus on how minor decisions can affect a community of his colleagues.

Since then, the Leadership Fellows have created a programming committee that focuses on miniature Leadership Academy events. This has included mentoring local high schools in oral advocacy competitions, and working to teach courses at local high schools with respect to “know your rights” law.