What is student leadership?
Andrew DeMasters QC12 and Jim Stellar
I (JS) remain interested in student leadership as a form of experiential learning right on campus. But the question is what is a student leader? And what makes him or her tick? To address those questions, I thought I would talk to one, someone I have known for a few years and who is making an important contribution to helping us raise our participation rates in the teacher evaluation process after it switched to on-line and suffered a classical drop in student participation rates. Oh…and Andrew writes his own blog.
Andrew, let’s begin at the beginning. What is a student leader and why do you want to be one?
A student leader is not someone who walks around with a title. Rather what I have come to understand is that more specifically, it is about taking initiative that inspires others to do the same. I have had the unique experience of coming to understand this concept. Ever since I could remember, I have always been in the active pursuit of trying to become part of a something more than myself. My sophomore year brought a lot of growth in the sense that I have to realize that having a title of “VP” or “senator” is meaningless unless you define it. My active engagement in trying not only understand myself but to look at what I was doing with a greater sense of purpose ultimately led me to become a student leader. In my time at Queens College, I have never held position in student government but I have made my best efforts to certainly change a campus I was invested in. Sometimes, without necessarily having “power” you can still make have friends, colleagues, supporters who realize the efforts you are trying to take to improve their lives as well. In my years here at QC, with the help of others, I am proud to be part of events such as Midnight Breakfast, War on Hate, Major/ Minor Fair, and more recently the Teacher Evaluation process. I believe that my continued experience has only been possible with the help of others who shared in the same vision as me. I do not say that I am a student leader. I often believe that I am the first follower of an idea and therefore the movement begins.
What do you think is the essential learning opportunity from being a student leader in or out of the student government?
There only needs to be one significant trait: a willingness to take action. I believe that being involved outside the classroom is highly educational for several reasons. First, regardless of any organization, you meet fellow students from all walks of life, whether they grew up in a bad neighborhood or avoided a giant debt with an undergraduate degree. By having a firsthand experience of just meeting these people, this is simply a taste of what the world and working environment is like outside of college. Second, you learn how to participate in meetings. By actively engaging within an organization you learn about the membership, member’s strengths and weaknesses, and what the purpose of the organization really is. Third, you learn how to actively engage yourself within your surrounding community through creating events that are run by students for students. What is a better feeling than that of helping to bring something awesome to your college that will be fun and beneficial? Fourth and finally, you really get to discover what your potential can be through active participation. I have found that remember your college campus and participating in it helped to shape the type of person I am today. I often find myself doing things that I never thought I could do, e.g, sitting in a room doing paperwork or having coffee with a fellow member in the dining hall. I believe it is some these basic truths that you receive outside the classroom that are so beneficial. In a way its learning that is optional, not required in a class. I have a firm belief that participating in an organization and having a chance to make a difference can certainly go a longer way, far past the perfect 4.0 GPA student.
How do you see this tying back to your major field of study and what you hope to do (at this stage) for your career?
I really see that the experiences I have had in college have provided me with tremendous insight and planning for my future. I plan on attending law school with a Juris Doctor in Public Interest Law. I am attracted to this field because I have a deep sense for being involved with government related work. My college career as a student leader has given me important skills such as scheduling meetings, policy research, public speaking, event organizing, and more importantly how to take an idea and put it into action. As both a double major in Political Science and Sociology, I believe that I have learned a great deal about how to understand and work with people, how to make successful policy, and how government should work for it’s people. I have taken two seminar classes in Political Science: NYC Politics and Immigration Law. Each has given different perspectives of what problems are facing our country as well as extensive background information. In Sociology, I have taken courses such as Deviant Behavior and Mass Media Pop culture that have exposed me to real problems, how information is relayed, and how it affects society as a whole. It is my intent to bring the same passion that motivated me as a student leader to my next challenge. My experiences as a student leader have certainty opened up the doors for what it is I want to do for the rest of my life: serve the public, make a difference, and be happy. I could not have asked for a better place as Queens College to further develop my skills, become a student leader, and have unforgettable experiences that provided me with how life after college will be.
Notice the use of the word “passion” just above. Passion makes people act. Some think it improves learning. Certainly it improves time-on-task and that makes learning better. In today’s world where so much of higher education is under criticism for not delivering a better educated student into the next level of schooling or into the workforce, this is an important concept. Why? Because a passionate student educates themselves as well as consuming what the college/university offers. So the academic facts-and-theory learning is better because the student sees the point. But more than that, the student sees the value. Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink.” that common wisdom has set for us? Well experiences like being a student leader can fire that thirst which we are calling passion. It can happen in the classroom, for sure. But why not build programs outside the classroom that make it more likely to happen. Why not let students help us build those programs? Is that not experiential education itself? Then we can leverage that passion with the curriculum, drive higher standards, enhance learning, and deliver the best educated student possible.