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Helping community college students become tomorrow’s leaders

What is leadership? The word may conjure images of presidents, CEOs, innovators, or activists. Last week, it looked like a dozen community college students attempting to balance on small wooden blocks.

At the annual Student Leadership Development Program (SLDP), everyone is a leader — or, perhaps, a leader in training. The program is hosted by the North Carolina Community Colleges (NCCC) system. Each of the 58 community colleges across the state can nominate two students to attend.

Students participating in this year’s SLDP spent last week at William Peace University for a summer session. They played initiative games, listened to speakers, and completed group projects designed to promote teamwork and leadership.

“My favorite thing I’ve learned this week is there’s always a different way to approach things,” said Melanie Green, a Wake Tech student in attendance. “Not everyone’s going to be on the same page 100 percent of the time, and you may have to reword things and see things from different angles.”

Embracing those differences is important for such an incredibly diverse group. Although all the students were selected for their aptitude for leadership, they have unique stories and reasons for being in community college.

Take Patricia Gilmer, a student who went back to community college for her GED and now associate degree:

Or Michael Ellis Stone, who shared wisdom regarding learning and leading with a disability:

Between events, which included a question and answer session with the new NCCC president Peter Hans, students had the opportunity to spend quality time on the university’s campus, sleeping in dorms and eating in the dining hall.

Shane Bryson is a current facilitator for the SLDP, meaning he leads one of the four teams of students throughout the program. He was drawn to the position after reaping the benefits of the program as a student at Randolph Community College, where he now works.

“The program had a huge impact on my life and professional career,” Bryson said. “It made me really see what leadership was, and I really wanted to work with students and share my experience with them.”

Many of the students in the program participate in student government or other extracurricular activities at their colleges. On Friday, when the groups showcased their projects for the week, several students discussed strategies for reaching out to students who are less involved on their own campuses.

That is exactly what administrators are hoping will happen when the students return to school this fall. Some community college students only come for classes and go directly home after, unaware of the many opportunities available right on their campuses. With the new tools the SLDP graduates have acquired, perhaps they can lead their peers in the right direction.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at robertkinlaw.com.