Knowing Oneself and Appreciating Others Through Leadership Training — Katherine Lithgow & Mohammad Feisal Rahman

Feisal is PhD  student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Student Leadership Certificate Program (SLP)- “one of the great resources on campus”- Feisal Rahman.
The Student Leadership Certificate Program (SLP) provides an opportunity for any current student (undergraduate or graduate) at UW to develop leadership capabilities which will serve them well on campus and long after they graduate.  For example, among the many workshops offered through the SLP are workshops which address principles of teamwork and collaboration.  The program is designed to encourage all students to participate regardless of whether they are in a leadership role.  The intent of program is to explore and enhance UW students’ leadership capabilities, and to help students gain knowledge and develop skills in leadership on campus and within the community. But Feisal Rahman, an SLP participant, will tell you it is so much more than that.  Participating in the SLP has resulted in “some of the most rewarding learning experiences” he’s had during his time at UW.

Here’s his story:

Before starting I will make a confession. In the past I have often produced long and boring write-ups. So, I categorically caution you: proceed further at your own risk! In this post, my first ever for the CTE blog, I will share my experience of the student leadership program (SLP) offered by the Organizational & Human Development Department at the University of Waterloo (UW).

I moved to Waterloo in 2009 for my Ph.D. program in engineering. Shortly thereafter, I came to know about the SLP program. I had prior experience of working with student organizations and thought that SLP would provide me the opportunity to meet other students outside my program, mingle within the UW community, and help me to learn more about leadership. After completing all 12 SLP sessions, I am now glad that I signed up for the program. SLP workshops are some of the most rewarding learning experiences I have had during my stay at UW.

All the sessions are unique, and are highly interactive and engaging. The facilitators encourage participation. They make sincere efforts to create a comfortable environment so that participants can share their thoughts and experiences. I think it’s the healthy discussion environment and the activities within each session that make the sessions so effective (and also make the 2-hour session pass just like that!!!!). For students, especially international students who seek opportunities to connect with other students, or practice English or want to improve their public speaking skills, SLP is probably one of the great resources around campus.

Effective communication is very important in almost every aspect of our life. I think that my communication skills have improved greatly following my participation in the workshops. For grad students that are TAing, SLP sessions can be very useful. One certainly will, through those sessions, learn how to have an effective discussion in a diverse group with students from different backgrounds. For me, soon after attending the first few sessions, I found that I was not an active listener and did not very often ask for feedback. I also realized that both are great attributes to be an effective mentor. Also there are non-verbal gestures that I found I need to work on. Recognizing such areas of improvement was important. I now pay attention to those areas whenever I am in a meeting or communicating with others and strive to improve.

One very important aspect of SLP is to learn how to work as a group or as a team. All 12 sessions include group activities. Those are very helpful as most of us don’t always have the opportunity to work with peers from different educational and cultural background. Also students in their early years of undergraduate program may not even have prior group work experience. Considering these scenarios, SLP workshops are a great platform to hone group work skills. Not only do the participants comprehend that people think differently but they also learn to value and appreciate other people’s views. In doing so, they also grow responsibility delegation and time management skills, and recognize how project goals can be attained as a group. There are also activities that help people to deal with conflict situations. (I later learned that some students impressed their Co-Op interviewers by mentioning some of those skills they learned through the SLP).

The program is called the Student Leadership Program. Leadership can be viewed broadly and may carry different meanings. To my understanding, SLP sessions cater a message that leadership at its core is discovering ourselves first and then putting forth the effort to understand others to strive for something that we collectively believe in. I previously thought that leadership was only about influencing others. While that notion is valid to a certain extent, the SLP sessions made me realize that first I need to gain power to influence, motivate or change myself. To do so I have to learn about myself, my values or in other words discover myself. I am now aware of many fronts I need to work on to improve my skills. I can gladly say that I learned a lot about myself and am motivated now to continue doing so in the coming years. Learning about myself has made me more confident. It has given me the power to have better influence and control over myself. I also realized that as my thoughts, views and values are important to me, so are everyone else’s to themselves, and others’ opinions are to be respected regardless of my personal view on a topic.

Everyone likes to stay in their own zone of comfort. I still do. But if needed for a greater cause, I am now more confident to go beyond that comfort zone.  And I think that makes me a leader of myself. Actually from that perspective everybody can be a leader.  I am grateful to SLP that it has helped me to instill a greater self confidence and respect for others.  One of my favourite quotes that I learned from the SLP ‘Global Intelligence Session’ says:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?” ..Rabbi Hillel

I expect the SLP workshops will be rewarding for other students as well. Thanks.

Mohammad Feisal Rahman
Ph.D. student
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The University of Waterloo.

The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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Katherine Lithgow

As Senior Instructional Developer, Integrative Learning, Katherine Lithgow facilitates ePortfolio and Integrative Learning initiatives, supporting instructors across campus with the design and implementation of activities that help students integrate learning in academic, workplace, community and social environments. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Katherine taught Cytology at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences. She received her BA from the University of Toronto, and a Master’s in Educational Technology from UBC. In what seems like another life, Katherine worked as a cytotechnologist graduating from TMI’s Cytology program.

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