What a refreshing and beneficial weekend at Great Wolf Lodge with CMU’s Leadership Institute! Connections Conference was all about building networks and making connections with others who share the same vision and desire to make the world a better place through leadership. The weekend was filled with insightful speakers, collaborative workshops, interactive sessions, and socials. I had so much fun “speed-connecting” and getting to know people within my community that I’ve never even seen before. Listening to people’s backgrounds and dreams allowed me to see how members of the same community are so diverse and unique. During speed connecting I met an exchange student from India who shared his experiences touring the world which was incredibly eye opening for me because I’ve barely traveled my own country. I’ve always known the importance of networking and making connections but never made a real effort to put myself out there and try to meet new people. Connections Conference gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that.

The conference also entailed institutional sessions and educational sessions. CMU’s LI did a fantastic job of making sure each session was not only inspiring but interesting along with engaging and passionate speakers. One educational session that really spoke to me was “Rooted in Growth: Mentoring Peers in Your Community” which sparked my interest because soon I will have a mentee of my own. We discussed essential qualities of effective mentorship and went through various scenarios comparing good to bad mentorship. I learned that in the beginning of the relationship an expectation of feedback needs to be established between the mentor and mentee. It is important to know what the mentee wants; whether it’s someone to just listen or someone to offer advice. Often times I try to fix the problem that a friend has brought to me instead of sitting back and just listening. After the mentor has listened to all that the mentee has to say and it’s time to offer support and challenge to the mentee it’s best to look at their priorities, ask leading questions, put yourself in their shoes, and focus on them instead of your own problems. Having meaningful and authentic conversations is another quality of effective mentorship. This means learning how to let your guard down and dig deep. When developing a relationship it’s important to be personal with the other person, getting to know their fears and aspirations. Learning about the qualities of being a successful mentor has prepared me to lead my peers within my communities on and off campus.

Another educational session I attended was “Taking Care of Your Leadership Garden” where I learned how to take care of people while getting the task done. We asked the questions, “What do your followers need?”, similar to asking yourself what your garden needs in order for it to grow, as well as “What don’t your followers need?”. Motivation and a sense of belonging were a few examples we discussed that could help our garden of followers grow along with knowing when and how to use different leadership styles. Through this session I learned how to plant a vision for my team, make good use of my resources, and engage my team in order to keep improving it.

Erin Gaken, an Assistant Director of Recruitment and Enrollment at CMU, spoke about making ethical and moral decisions in her “Getting Dirty: The Dirty Dozen” session. Some may overlook the importance of everyday decision making and how it can affect you and your team but Erin brought up a very significant point that in a leadership role it’s crucial that we eliminate the rationalizations and excuses we use when making dishonorable decisions. She gave us the top twelve excuses such as “it’s not my job” or “everybody does it” which really pushed me to evaluate my decision making process and identify where I tend to make wrong decisions.

During the Institutional sessions we zoned in on our specific communities within CMU. The main initiatives in these sessions were assessing the community and action planning. Within a community there are several assets that are organized into Individual, Institutional, Governmental, Organizational, Physical, or Cultural. Identifying these assets and where they come from are important for the community to fulfill its duties and continue its effectiveness. Assessing the community also means assessing the behaviors of the individuals within the community. We began by writing down behaviors that need to begin, end, continue, decrease, and increase. We decided that respect and maturity were behaviors that needed to increase in our community and communication was a major behavior that needed to begin. This lead us to establish a method of action planning that maps out specific efforts towards achieving our set goals. In my community we made an objective and named the stake holders and tasks that go along with our objective. Learning how to evaluate a community is essential for leaders in order to improve and grow the community into what it’s meant to be. Although I have just begun my journey here at CMU, I am already a part of many different communities that have a lot of potential for growth. Having these skills of assessing a community will help me lead my communities in the right direction.

Connections Conference did just what it was meant to do: provide students with a conference unlike any other while allowing them to make real connections with others and guiding them in a positive direction to improve CMU’s campus and community. I went home completely refreshed and inspired to create a better atmosphere with the essential strategies and connections to help me.

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