On Friday March 23 at 5pm, a group of diverse, motivated, and passionate first-years and several upperclass students gathered in Rangos ballroom for ELebrations. Roughly six weeks ago, these same people gathered at Camp Guyasuta, twenty minutes from campus surrounded by nature for an overnight retreat. Most of them had not known each other nor really had any idea what they were getting into besides “a free all-expenses paid night in the woods” from the application forms. And to the 11 mentors, it was a culmination of months of preparation and much personal growth on being better leaders as well as providing their group members as meaningful of a experience in the program. Fast forward back to Friday the 23rd and seeing everyone 6 weeks later filled with motivation and enthusiasm about their respective service projects as well as the new bonds and friendships formed, it seemed that the reality of exams and stress left everyone’s minds for the hour and a half of the event.
The Emerging Leaders program has been a long-standing CMU tradition dedicated to promoting leadership and service for first-year students during the spring semester. Kicked off with an overnight retreat at Camp Guyasuta where participants engage in leadership and teambuilding activities, looking inward as well as outwards, learning about themselves and also being a leader in the community. Led by 11 upperclass mentors, following the retreat, each group works together to create a civic engagement and service project in their impact area. The impact areas, each led by a mentor, featured this year include Education, Mental Health, Public Health, Refugees & Immigrants, Hunger, Homelessness, Women’s Empowerment, Sustainability, Animal Rights, Income Inequality, and Disaster Relief.
The projects that were done ranges from off-campus community outreach at local soup kitchen or local organizations to on-campus centric events or awareness campaigns such as a mental health showcase, documentary project, or textbook-lending initiative. But regardless of the projects’ size, each project were the fruits of the participants’ passions for their impact areas and being an positive agent of change in the community, whether on-campus or around Pittsburgh.
What really touched the audience, mentors and mentees alike, were just hearing each group’s presentations on their projects and their experiences throughout the program. Especially out of the busy schedules of CMU students, just seeing people of diverse majors, skills, and backgrounds working towards common goals really reminds me of the humanity in all of us and the true power of the good over the bad. In the words of Ryan Rusali (CIT 2021), the program allowed him to “realize just how caring CMU can be…[and how] everybody is in it together.” To Kristy Zhang (TPR 2021), Emerging Leaders allowed her to “step outside of [her] comfort zone, learn more about mental health through the service project, and also build teamwork skills [with an] amazing group of people for which she will cherish those relationships and memories.” And to Emerging Leader alum and mentor Rohit Rajiv (MCS 2020), between his involvement last year as a first-year and this year as mentor, he has gained more experience in dealing with unexpected situations as well as learned more about logistics of leadership and event-planning – how things are done.
For me, as the Lead Mentor and a third-time Emerging Leader, it has never failed to amaze me to see the work that comes out of the impact groups. Each experience as both first-year and upperclass mentor has been the most unique and has also allowed me to learn something about myself and become a better person and leader.
While the program has come to a close, leadership and service has just started for both the first-years and mentors alike. From being leaders of student organizations to involvement as Resident Assistants, Orientation Counselors, Greek life chairs, returning mentors, or even leaders in one’s professional careers, there’s no doubt the transformative experience Emerging (or, should I say, emerged) Leaders would have had on the participants.
Author’s Note: Special thanks again to the ten wonderful mentors who I had the pleasure to work with as well as the advisor Meredith Hassenrik for the work she has put into the program. And a special shout-out to the eight fearless mentees of the Mental Health group.