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How to be a leader

Conference will develop student leadership skills

Student Union President Brooke Feldman and Vice President Mark DiCristofaro: bringing together student leaders. Photo by Daryl Deluca

Some people seem to be natural leaders, but research on leadership styles argues that “born leaders” are a myth — they are created.

The first annual BU Student Leadership Conference, to be held September 29 and 30, will help prepare students to take on positions of authority in student groups, residence hall associations, and college government.

“Whether you’re a freshman who doesn’t have any idea of how you want to get more involved in campus activities or you’re a senior and the president of a student group, you will get a lot out of the conference,” says Brooke Feldman (SED’08, CAS’08), Student Union president. BU runs periodic student leadership development projects, including the Crux Program and training sessions for senior residence assistants, but the Student Union Executive Board, with help from the Dean of Students Office and the Student Activities Office, created this comprehensive two-day event to reach a much wider audience.

“We constantly heard from students that since our campus is so big, they have trouble connecting different student groups and often feel distant from other student leaders,” says Mark DiCristofaro (COM’08), Student Union vice president. “By investing our time and efforts — like this conference — into BU’s student leaders, I am positive we will see a tremendous trickle-down effect to the thousands of students that the student leaders affect every year.”

The conference offers 17 roundtable sessions, including Conflict and Communication, Big Plans, Tight Budget, and The Leaders’ Toolbox, and provides “a menu that appeals to any type of leader and any leadership situation,” says Laura De Veau, assistant director of student and staff development in the Office of Residence Life.

De Veau (CGS’87, COM’89, SED’95), who is presenting a roundtable titled Transferable Skill Development for Student Leaders, says the participants will learn skills designed to “help make them not only more capable leaders, but also more competent and highly sought-after professionals after they graduate.”

In Leadership Without a Title, Ashley Robshaw (CAS’07), a South Campus voting representative on the Student Union, will discuss leadership theory to define the responsibilities of a leader. “We will focus on such key elements as mutual respect, inclusion, and making yourself and others be heard,” she says.

Also on the agenda is a keynote address by President Robert Brown at the conference’s Friday night dinner and presentations by professional leadership consultant Robert Jones, whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, universities, high schools, and religious organizations. Those attending the conference also are invited to a concert by Willy Mason with Elvis Perkins at BU Central on Friday at 9 p.m.

De Veau and Robshaw say the conference isn’t limited to high-profile students on campus. “Students at the conference who are leadership veterans can add to their wealth of knowledge, but rookies can learn something completely new,” says Robshaw. They agree that there is no such thing as a born leader. “There are people with personalities that are traditionally perceived as more charismatic,” says De Veau, “and for some reason we’ve been trained to believe that without charisma, someone cannot lead. I don’t think this is the case. Some of the most soft-spoken leaders are often the most effective.”

Indeed, DiCristofaro says that taking charge isn’t necessarily a definition of leadership. “However, being responsible and enrolling others in your vision is.” He points to Saturday’s My Communication Style and the Personality Matrix as one of the major sessions. “Students will learn the major personality types — what are the dominant types, what are the recessive types, and why it is crucial to be all four types at different times in order to effectively communicate with others,” he says.

The conference is the latest in a number of Student Union initiatives, including a redesigned Web site that features news and announcements, an events calendar, and postings of the minutes of meetings. “One of our thrusts this year is increasing student involvement at BU,” says Feldman. “We want to connect students to each other and to the resources of the University.”

The Student Leadership Conference will run Friday, September 29, from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, September 30, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Sargent Activities Center, the FitRec, the George Sherman Union, and Hillel House. A $10 conference fee includes four meals, a T-shirt, program materials, prizes, and team-building ropes course activities.