The Foundation of Leadership – iLead 2018

Alana Earle, Contributor

Bidiman speaking to student leaders about the importance of self-care.

What exactly is iLead? –

iLead, one of the leadership conferences offered by the office of student involvement, sets out to make a foundation for students to become great leaders on campus. Leadership itself is often times a skill that people from all over the world and from various different walks of life have coveted for centuries. From kings to emperors or presidents to school principals, good leadership skills are something people strive for, but very few people can truly master.

That is where iLead comes into play. “The purpose of this is to give, kind of a foundation of leadership. So if a student who wants to develop leadership skills, they have that ability to do that, they don’t have to be tied to a student organization,” Alex J. Collins, coordinator for student organizations and leadership programs said.

iLead sets out to give a foundation for successful leaders to learn some overall skills and tips on how to get started on their journey of becoming a great leader. 

How do student leaders define leadership? –

Lindsey Sarabia, Sunwatcher Village building five resident assistant said, “Leadership comes in different forms but, at its core, it is setting the example [for others]. As a leader, it is your job to make other leaders by supporting and raising up your community.” Setting an example as a leader is considered to be one of the vital points of leadership, as community members want leaders to be the model citizens of society and someone to look to for guidance.

Steven Ehlert, residence hall association president and student ambassador, said, “You have to be able to take criticism and adapt to your position [as a leader] as you go. You can read a million leadership books but, everyday is different and you have to put it all together to form a leader.”

The ability to adapt to your surroundings and use it as a tool to better your leadership skills as well as who you’re guiding is another necessary part of being a leader, especially in a field such as campus leadership where your daily tasks, timelines and guidelines can change in an instant.

Courtney Hoover, Alpha Phi sorority president said, “To me, leadership is always setting the example. It’s about pushing my members to be the best they can be, by doing my best. I think being a leader is all about helping members grow and realize exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, while empowering them to be everything that they aspire to be.”

Jaylon Williams, resident assistant and former student government secretary said, “Leadership is based on upon “servant leadership”. You cannot be a good leader by micromanaging nor by being an iron fist boss. You have to show people you are proactive and willing to get your hands dirty…you can’t just be a sideline leader…the leadership I built here was based on family and creating a safe space for people to come and feel at ease.”

These skills take an important place in a leaders toolbelt. Without the ability to adapt and being able to set a respectable example for those around you, a leader can lose much of what helps make them a notable figure in society. These two skills alone can be detrimental to any leaders’ career if they do not use them to better their teams and community.

Alex Collins set out to give any student the opportunity to develop vital leadership skills, even if they are not tied to a direct organization on campus. iLead began in 2012, required for student leaders to attend in order to hold positions in organizations. Since starting this past July as one of the two coordinators for student involvement, Collins has tried to “rework” the way iLead works to be a foundational stepping stone for leaders across campus to get a head start in both leadership and involvement from the start of their college careers.

Collins said “I want it to be this foundational jump-point for students, in an organization or not, just to give them some ways [to start leadership].”

“Balance & Wellness as a Student Leader” –

iLead 2018 was expected to have 104 people attend, the official head-count was 172 people. The budget was set at $3,000 dollars. Respectfully Craig Bidiman, health education and wellness promotion specialist, only took $2,150 to potentially save the rest of budget for other iLead related needs.

This year for iLead, Bidiman spoke about the ways that that students can build their leadership skills to the best of their ability. In his transparent and off-the-wall styled talk on Sept. 18, Craig outlined some key points on how to get started on a journey to having great leadership skills as well as – or most importantly – prioritizing self-care in order to be the best version of oneself, so that one can be as strong of a leader as one desires.

A main point seen in the talk was “authenticity” and transparency. Bidiman is originally from Ohio, but currently works at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst as a health education and wellness specialist, as well as a punk activist, which focuses on overall well-being not only with the body, but equally as important, the mind. Bidiman stressed the importance of mental well being as much as physical, along with sexual health. He guides students with advice for how they can better themselves as well as runs many talks about leadership, the importance of transparency and sexuality/sex.

Although Bidiman is not a counselor, he does give advice and mentors students through casual talking.

Bidiman said he wanted to stress the importance of these two characteristics because they keep people honest and genuine, which is where students began a journey with Bidiman, with being extremely self-aware.

“Self-awareness is essential,” Bidiman said. Though there was jokes of the first time Bidiman became self-aware, when a friend abruptly told him he was being a jerk. He used his past lessons as a way to open up the door to being self-aware, he really wanted the audience to understand that if you’re not self-aware, you will easily fall into a pit of bad leadership. If you can’t admit you’re wrong, how can you ever learn from your mistakes. With key points in the talk such as “Be Unapologetic”, “Self-Advocacy”, and “Be Real”, there was a common theme floating around the room, improving yourself before setting out to improve others. 

The talk was very much centered around the latter. Bidiman definitely accomplished his goal of captivating the audience with his radical and energetic talk; the audience was taken aback by his honesty but, thrilled with his motivating speech of self-advocacy. The talk seemed to really make an impact on campus leaders.

After the main talk the conference broke into mini-sessions with options like “Balance & Wellness as a Student Leader”. After speaking about past experiences and explaining how he became unapologetically who he is today, Bidiman moved into some key points of how to have “Balance & Wellness as a Student Leader” in his breakout session with points like, “Life is all about balance”,”Be upfront with your professors, supervisors, and friends” and “Don’t sacrifice creative efforts”.

Other breakout sessions included “What is your Digital Voice?” with AJ Lopez, “The Power of Diversity & Inclusion” with Dr. Syreeta-Greene. Along with more expected sessions such as “SGA Senator Training” with the current student government board and “Mustangs Link Training” with Mario Ramirez, interim director of student involvement.

“The Power of Diversity & Inclusion” with Dr. Syreeta-Greene was a look into the reason why we need diverse people in the workplace, school and communities. Syreeta-Greene guided a discussion on why society needs inclusion, the participants that showed up to the discussion were all female, therefore the discussion took a turn to discuss the societal struggles females face as well as the impressions often placed on females from their upbringings. Though, the talk slowed down at one point due to the shyness of some students, a couple excited people, one being Lindsey Sarabia, had much to say about how powerful the simple attempt to include other cultures can be on any workplace, especially in the primary school classrooms.

My experience at iLead 2018  –

Which brings the story to the next point, the writer’s perspective on the talk given by Bidiman.

I interviewed Bidiman after the conference, to talk about his inspiration for student affairs and why he gives the talks that he does. One thing I wanted to make clear before continuing is how much Bidiman sees in students both at his prospective school and all throughout the country. When asked what inspires him to talk with students everywhere, Bidiman said, “The potential in every student.”

I feel that there is a reflection of the entire conference. Though Bidiman had a lot of energy and was brutally honest, something that may throw off some listeners at the beginning, his heart is in the right place. Coming from someone who has faced his own great deal of adversaries, Bidiman just wants to nurture the growing minds around him into strong minded leaders who are unafraid to speak about what’s on their minds.

Bidiman said “I think the audacity of people who want to learn is a form of counter-culture because, society tries to make he educated feel bad for seeking knowledge.”

Sitting there listening to someone who is a perfect example of the New England area, I personally agreed with him, too many times people who are trying to learn and excel are silenced by the pressures from society. Whether it be similar to what was discussed with Syreeta-Greene with females consistently being told to sit down and shut up or whether it be our own minds working against us, second guessing every move we make, I feel that the only way to take a hold of our future as a inclusive society that raises powerful leaders who are not afraid to speak their minds, is by being unapologetic.

Throughout history, we see the powerful people, (not just men or women, but collectively, people), standing up fiercely for justice through silent protests, powerful, statement-making speeches or even just simply advocating for human rights. Why should we stop now? My experience with these talks led me to realize that the carefully selected speakers really tied together a strong message if you chose the corresponding sessions. I truly feel after listening to the speakers that we should look in ourselves first and fix any ingenuity, self-doubt and prejudices, to better ourselves so that we may go out and understand our fellow homo sapiens to make a better and more inclusive society. We will always have mean spirited and hateful people in the world, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of the best people and leaders in the free world weren’t unapologetic.

In whole, iLead 2018 took an intended and much needed direction change to help set a good foundation for the rest of the student involvement talks for the 208-2019 school year, as hoped for by Alex Collins. It was a fresh take on leadership instead of an overused platform of key points on how to lead, but rather a talk of how to start truly being a great leader, starting with self-care and understanding where each other comes from.