While attending the National Collegiate Leadership Conference last weekend at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Rachel Sullivan ’09 and Heather McTague ’11 learned a few things about their personalities and leadership styles.
In one of the five workshops they attended — of more than 60 offered at the annual, three-day conference — students were divided into groups based on personality tests they had taken. Each group of two to 15 students was then told to build something with LEGO building blocks. What they built would say something about how they lead.
The challenge for Sullivan and her group was the workshop leader didn’t say exactly what to build. “As a leader, I like when someone tells you, ‘Here’s what you have to do.’ I love to follow rules,” Sullivan, an economics major who has completed Sweet Briar’s Leadership Certificate Program, said. “But if it’s open ended, I’m never quite sure what they want.”
As a result, Sullivan and her like-minded group had trouble building a recognizable structure. “We have to have very specific things and our leadership style is very traditional, and we have to stabilize the group,” she said. “We were confused. We said, ‘What do we have to build?’ … The task was so open ended that we had a hard time deciding what to do.”
McTague’s group, on the other hand, had little difficulty deciding what to build. An English and creative writing major, McTague said she and her group learned “we were the catalyst and wanted to include everyone, wanted to give back and not leave anyone out.”
When it came to building something with LEGOs, they built a playground. “[In] our group, we started to talk about ideas. Someone built a seesaw and someone said, ‘Let’s build a playground,’ because we wanted to give something back to the community.”
McTague said the exercise taught her “that I love to give back to people and help people, but I don’t have to be the one in charge. I can be a silent motivator. The leader isn’t always the one out in front. They can be in the back, too.”
The exercise also was an “ah ha” moment for Sullivan, an admitted stickler for punctuality and time limits. “Learning that I really like a structured environment and deadlines made me know why I get stressed out when things are not done on time,” she said.
Other workshops Sullivan attended included two on leadership theories, one on teambuilding and another involving personality inventory. McTague took part in clinics on public speaking, immigration and economics, personality and “The Eve Project,” a workshop aimed at taking a stand against sexual violence.
She plans to put what she learned about “The Eve Project” to use at Sweet Briar. “Afterwards, I talked with the women who are the chairs of that and we’re going to be in contact so we can set up something like that here,” she said.
For Sullivan, one of the highlights of the conference was getting to hear keynote speakers Justin Jones and James Castrission talk about a kayaking trip they took across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand.
Sullivan had heard about the adventurers while studying abroad in Australia. The duo had planned to make the trip in about 30 days, she said, but after being caught in a huge circular current took about twice that long.
At the conference, Jones and Castrission talked about their trip as it related to leadership, about “planning and having faith,” she said. “It was more like a chat than a speech and they had the audience at every single word, hoping they’d be OK, and it was pretty humorous.”
Both Sullivan and McTague said they made friends at the conference that they plan to keep in touch with, and Sullivan, who also attended the 2007 conference, said she hopes it will become a tradition for students in the Leadership Certificate Program.
“It’s a worthwhile event and you get to meet a lot of interesting student leaders from across the country,” she said.
Joan Lucy, LCP director, agreed, noting that it’s one of the strongest student leadership events in the country. “It’s a cool conference,” she said. “I would like to see more of our students attend the conference in the future.”
Nearly 50 colleges, including one from Australia, sent representatives to the National Collegiate Leadership Conference. Most of the students came from schools in the American Southwest and Midwest, and Sullivan and McTague were the only students from a women’s college to attend. Their trip was funded by the SBC Student Government Association’s Leadership Fund.
— Suzanne Ramsey