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It’s OK To Be an Introvert
Leadership education was especially eye opening to junior Khaoula Benghanem, who has been exposed to it as a requirement for her management degree and also in her role as a student senator. “I know now it’s OK to be an introvert. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t listening; it just means they think things through. Now I don’t get so frustrated. It has made me appreciate people more and become more compassionate.”

However, some students remain skeptical about the importance of these “soft skills” — as they have been called.

“For an institution full of right-side-of-the-brain people it can seem a bit ‘touchy-feely’,” says Bob Sands, assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the Lally School of Management and Technology. To counter their skepticism, he refers them to research that shows how individuals with leadership abilities perform better on the job, have a better understanding of their roles, and develop better relationships. He agrees with McCloskey that everybody benefits from this work. The fact that it’s required, he says, helps ensure that students who might not otherwise take advantage of leadership development learn to take on leadership roles.

Many students won’t gain perspective on the value of their leadership skills until they’ve entered the workforce, says Gary Gabriele, vice provost for administration and dean of undergraduate education. “Students [who have graduated] say that they feel they have a clear advantage when it comes to working in a team situation. They are surprised to encounter the same kinds of issues on their work teams that they encountered here at Rensselaer.”

This was true for Lea Chan ’01, an engineer at Becton Dickinson, a medical technology company. “The leadership training I received as an undergraduate at Rensselaer not only made me more self-aware, but also placed me far above my peers at work,” she says.

As other institutions of higher learning begin to place more emphasis on student leadership, many look to Rensselaer for guidance. Today the Archer Center has become the national model for student leadership development among colleges and universities. Working with NASPA the center offers workshops and hosts visits from colleagues at other institutions seeking to gain insight into the way the Institute’s leadership training complements its rigorous curriculum.

Karin Mack, director of the Center for Engineering Professionalism at the University of California at Davis, made the trip across the country a few years ago as she was developing a leadership program at her institution. “I met with various staff and learned about curriculum and, most important, the buy-in Linda [McCloskey] had with her administration and faculty. That was the most critical thing. That the dean of engineering was an advocate, as was the president…that’s what you need.” Working with the center, she says, helped her build credibility with her own faculty and gain support from the administration at her university.

Leadership development has become a way of life on campus, says Vice President of Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles. He says the Archer Center not only adds value to the profile of Institute graduates but also helps to produce well-rounded individuals with a higher level of maturity and understanding.

“Rensselaer is committed to creating leaders of the 21st century — people who create new ideas, products, and services that will help solve problems we face in many aspects of our lives and the planet,” says Knowles. “And to do that you need to have people leave here with a sensibility about the world and take into account the need for working with people and the ability to provide leadership. And that doesn’t happen by chance.”

Linda Anderson is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, N.Y.

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Rensselaer Magazine: Spring 2004
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

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