By Lara Becker
When Tara Mild, a sophomore elementary education and English dual major, first walked into LeaderShape, she didn’t know what to expect from the more than 50 unfamiliar faces she saw. Little did she know that by the end of the week, they would all be there to, as she said, catch her if she fell.
What most do not know is that LeaderShape, a national conference that gives students across the country the opportunity to hone in on their leadership skills, is completely free. The conference challenges them to grow both as a group and individually as they embark on a journey to better themselves and their communities.
This year’s third annual LeaderShape conference took place from Jan. 6 to Jan. 11 in Avalon, New Jersey at the Golden Inn. Each of the six days had a different theme to guide the schedule of lectures and group activities.
Partaking in lectures and discussions based around community building, diversity and inclusivity and discovering ways to make visions become a reality were just a few of the reasons Mild’s week at LeaderShape were so powerful.
“It was an eye-opening week for everyone who went,” Mild said. “LeaderShape granted me a multitude of connections and opportunities to grow as a person.”
The program selects 60 students from the College through an online application every year, which is usually available in the fall semester. No leadership experience is necessary to apply for the event and the only thing students need to bring to the table is enthusiasm for teamwork.
LeaderShape presents students with the opportunity to better themselves and collaborate with peers outside of the classroom. Students gain exposure to meaningful lessons on community building, finding the leader within themselves and shaping core values.
Mild mentioned a memorable activity where she wrote her values on a piece of paper before sharing them with her fellow students to learn the values of everyone around her.
“My favorite part was being able to connect with 59 other like-minded students who all shared a passion for bringing their visions to life and changing the world,” Mild said. “Whether it was in small or large group discussions, everybody’s voice was valued and heard.”
Throughout the event, topical issues brought new perspectives to the hearts and minds of everyone at the conference, including what it means to be a leader.
Frank Fabiano, a sophomore history secondary education dual major, was friends with Mild before the trip, but LeaderShape brought them closer together.
“I loved LeaderShape because it changed the way I thought about my place in society and what ways I can help others understand this too,” Fabiano said. “We all work together in this world to create a community that is welcome and inclusive of everyone and I learned how to do this at LeaderShape.”
Jeury Dipre, a sophomore communication studies major, agreed with Fabiano and Mild about how LeaderShape fundamentally changed him for the better.
“LeaderShape was unlike any other leadership conference I’ve ever been to,” Dipre said. “I love how the magic of LeaderShape makes it possible for a group of people to create genuine bonds in such a short period of time.”
Daliah Ouedraogo, a sophomore communication studies major, is eager to share this experience with more students in upcoming years.
“LeaderShape is really amazing,” Ouedraogo said. I remember asking people myself before I got accepted to go on how it was and they simply said an ‘experience.’ I honestly didn’t know what they meant by that until I went myself.”
Ouedraogo also discussed the connections she built with others at the conference.
“I’ve also met many new people who are my friends now and the faculty also pushed us to our fullest,” Ouedraogo said. “Each day brought out a different approach to looking at life and living in the moment.”
Experiences like LeaderShape give students at the College the tools to create a ripple effect of education, kindness and initiative as they come back to the campus with their new-found leadership skills.
“It challenged me and motivated me to do better for myself, TCNJ’s campus and the world,” Ouedraogo said.