Inside Mizzou: Building Leaders

Building Leaders illustration: construction cranes lifting letters to spell Leaders

Feb. 19, 2019

With access to one-of-a-kind, world-class signature centers and institutes such as the Novak Leadership Institute, the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy and the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Mizzou students begin building their leadership skills from day one. Opportunities like these distinguish a Mizzou education and also explain why more than 400 current CEOs have come out of the College of Engineering alone.

Join Chancellor Cartwright for this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast where he talks with Sidne Fonville, a junior studying journalism and French; and Tessa Weinberg, a senior studying print and digital journalism who is spending this semester in Washington, D.C. as a David Kaplan Memorial Fellow. They discuss the different ways students gain valuable leadership skills — inside and outside the classroom — as well as the impact that has on the Mizzou community.

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Moderator: [00:00:08] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community. Today’s episode is called “Building Leaders.” In the classroom, lab or studio; as entrepreneurs and elite athletes — Mizzou students pride themselves on being leaders across campus and throughout the world. And for good reason: With over 600 student organizations and centers like the Novak Leadership Institute, all Mizzou students have the chance to gain valuable leadership skills as part of their education. On this episode of Inside Mizzou, we will be talking about why leadership is so important to the Mizzou experience. Joining Chancellor Cartwright today are two Diversity Peer Educators: Tessa Weinberg, a senior studying print and digital journalism, who is spending this spring in Washington, D.C. as a David Kaplan Memorial Fellow; and Sidne Fonville, a junior studying journalism and French. Thank you all for being here today. We really appreciate it.

Everyone: [00:01:25] Thanks for having us.

Moderator: [00:01:26] Yeah. Let’s begin with this: Tessa and Sidne, could you talk about your roles as Diversity Peer Educators?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:01:34] Yeah. So, basically Diversity Peer Educators is a program run out of the Multicultural Center in the Student Center, and we’re essentially just a group of students that go through a year of training with each other about different topics related to, you know, privilege, identity, “-isms,” and how that relates to us as people and, you know, orgs we’re a part of on campus. And then we go out and give facilitations, and basically our role is just to really facilitate dialogues about these topics more with students and our peers. So, it was an org I joined in my freshman year and have been a part of. I went through training, facilitating, and now this passed semester I was one of the student co-coordinators helping just to run the org.

Sidne Fonville: [00:02:12] Yeah, so I also — I’m a year younger — but I also joined my freshman year, and so I’m finishing up my first year of being an active facilitator, and then I’ll be taking over Tessa’s role as she leaves us for Washington.

Moderator: [00:02:23] Now what are some key elements in these facilitation skills or these leadership skills that you both have that you’ve found essential to these roles?

Sidne Fonville: [00:02:33] I think we always first and foremost put listening on the forefront of all of our minds — active listening and just validating people’s experience and their opinions. That sets the platform for more open dialogues and discussions because these are hard topics, but I think listening always comes first.

Tessa Weinberg: [00:02:53] Yeah, I was gonna say listening as well. Because I think just even being within the org of how can I make sure I am hearing from everyone about their thoughts about how to improve the org or things like that, making sure I’m coming up with multiple ways people can share those thoughts so I can be listening to them. And yeah, especially in facilitations I think listening is the most key thing. You know, even just realising, “Like, OK let me listen and hear what they’re saying,” and realizing maybe let’s stray from the script of our facilitation because this is really what needs maybe addressing or a really interesting point of conversation we can have. So, I think listening and then letting that inform my leadership and how I go about things.

Moderator: [00:03:27] Yeah and basically thinking on the spot, too. I feel like that’s definitely key in those facilitations. Chancellor Cartwright, why are leadership opportunities such as these peer-educating groups so important to the educational experience here at Mizzou?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:03:43] You know, whatever you do after you’re in college, your skills in leadership will be important, and the more that you can have opportunities to work with other people while you’re here — learn how to really embrace our core values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence and think about how we value the people around us and what they can actually bring to solutions — I think it helps you long term. So, anything we can be doing to give our students more leadership opportunities, the better for them long term.

Moderator: [00:04:18] Tessa and Sidne, what are both of your thoughts on being a peer-educating group and your important role that you have within the Mizzou community?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:04:29] Yeah, I mean it’s really cool we’re all volunteers. And so, I think that brings really special people at the table, about people who, you know, this is something that, at the heart, is something they’re just really passionate and excited — about having those conversations. And I think it’s really cool when it is coming from a peer, where I think it just initially already sets it up as kind of like, “Let’s have a conversation. Let’s have that dialogue.” And something we always say before facilitations is that even though we go through a year of training, we are by no means experts on these topics and learn as much from you all as you hopefully learn from us. So, I think that is a really special, unique thing that comes from being peer educators, and really meeting each other on the same level when it comes to those.

Sidne Fonville: [00:05:05] Yeah, I’m just going to harp the same thing. I think it’s really powerful to come from the same level. When you go to different orgs and you see your friends or you see people you’ve had classes with, it just breaks down a certain barrier. We’re no authority, we’re not experts. We’re here to just have a conversation. We’re here to maybe share some things that you don’t know, but you’re also going to share things that we don’t know, and we’ll all be better for that.

Moderator: [00:05:30] And how many facilitations have you done this year?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:05:33] Yeah, so this semester we kind of were just counting up the numbers. We’ve done about 50 or so facilitations, and if we’re like estimating, it’s probably better about 1300 students, and we only had about less than 10 active facilitators. So, yeah, it’s a lot of ground we covered.

Moderator: [00:05:47] And then you just picked a new class. Is that correct?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:05:52] Yeah. And it’s one of the biggest we’ve ever had in recent years, so it’s really exciting that so many people are interested and that we get to welcome so many new people into this space.

Moderator: [00:06:00] Right. And in that year of training, can you just go just a little bit, not really in depth because I know within those trainings it can be really special environments, but just kind of the basis level of what people are getting into when they’re doing that year of training?

Sidne Fonville: [00:06:16] I like to break it up, so it’s two semesters. The first semester is more about learning the groundwork, the very — the terms, the theories, all the kind of backbone research that you need to know to have these conversations, so that you have the right terminology and the right language to use in these spaces. And then the second semester is more based on facilitation skills. So, how do you navigate a conversation, how do you get certain people to share, how do you get people to get out of their comfort zone and have difficult conversations maybe for the first time.

Moderator: [00:06:52] Chancellor Cartwright, how is Mizzou uniquely suited to help students build these leadership skills? Because I know within Diversity Peer educators, that the coordinator of it gets asked about DPE as a program by multiple universities, and even they kind of want those facilitations that these students do. So, how are there other ways that Mizzou does that?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:07:14] You know, you mentioned at the beginning of the podcast the Novak Leadership Institute, where we actually have an entire program that’s focused on taking people with you and how we can work with the people around us and how you are a leader that helps to advance everybody on your team. And I think that’s something that we value. That’s sort of the servant-leadership model, where you really want to understand what people are thinking — that you listen, you spend a lot of time listening and asking questions and then ultimately making a decision. You know, a lot of what I do as a leader I treat it sort of from a science viewpoint, right. And Einstein is quoted as saying that if you had an hour to solve a problem and your life depended on it, he would take the first 55 minutes asking questions about it. Because once you understand the problem enough, it should only take you five minutes to solve it. And I think that’s what it is about being a leader is that you need to understand and listen to the people around you. And I think that’s what DPE does so well is it teaches our students how to listen — how to listen to the people around them, how to work with people and then how to offer solutions based on all of the input that you’re getting. So, it’s just a tremendous program allowing us to build leaders for the future.

Moderator: [00:08:44] And one of the core kind of values or beliefs within DPE is that “seed” metaphor. So, do one of you kind of want to elaborate a little bit about that? Because I really think that’s beautiful, and it’s something that I try and live with everyday of not getting so bogged down with stuff.

Tessa Weinberg: [00:09:02] Yeah, essentially what we kind of say is that our main goal is to really plant seeds into the spaces we go into. Because the idea is, you know, sometimes people are just there for class, and maybe they really don’t want to have that conversation that day. Or, you know, maybe that’s something that’s the first time they’re hearing about it. Like, “I’m not so sure about this thing someone said.” But the whole goal is to really be like, “Well hopefully, though, that’ll be a seed that was planted that day.” Maybe they’re not going to act on that in the next day or the next week or the next year, but maybe at some point they’ll think back on what that conversation was in that room that they had with their peers. And hopefully, you know, will act on that in some positive way, some inclusive way. And so, that’s kind of what we call our facilitations and the work we do — just hoping to be planting seeds around campus that hopefully people take and carry out. Not only into campus, but also into their own lives and off of campus when they leave.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:09:53] You know, Mizzou is a remarkable institution, and if you look around at all of the things that happen at this institution, there’s so much of it that is built around leadership. It’s the ROTC program. It is what our students do when organizing everything for Homecoming and all of the large teams that have to come together and how we make sure that we have a successful whole month of October. And that translates when you see people go out into industry or go into whatever they’re interested in afterwards. We have a disproportionate number of people who really become leaders — CEOs of companies around the world — and that is I think due to that culture of leadership that’s been at Mizzou for so many years. And so, we’re really proud to see how much our students take on and take on as leaders to help the institution move forward.

Moderator: [00:10:50] Yeah, and this is a great segue into my next question because with Tessa you’re going to be in Washington, D.C.; and with Sidne, you’re gonna be staying here for another year and being student coordinator for Diversity Peer Educators. But I’m really curious about how your certain approach of leadership beforehand — how much it’s been influenced by your work within DPE now?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:11:12] I would say, for me, the core thing about DPE is always education. Not only educating ourselves, but also in those conversations hoping to get education happening with other people. And so, that’s something I think, for me, it’s really taught me about how to also be actively thinking about that with myself and my own leadership style. There’s always constantly things I think I can be learning about how to be a better leader, about how to have better conversations with the people I am in spaces with. And so, I think the education part has been really key for me. About, you know, there’s never going to be one moment where I’m like, “OK! I’m a leader, I’ve got it figured out, I’m doing it all right.” That’s always a constant process of learning, and so I think that’s probably what DPE has shaped the most when it comes to my leadership style.

Sidne Fonville: [00:11:55] Yeah, I think education is really important and at the core of what we do. Also, to go off of that, I think that cultivating community within the spaces that you’re in is so important and imperative. Because even just within DPE, we always try to build connections with each other. So, when we go into other orgs or other classrooms, we always know that the person next to us, our co-facilitator, knows us well, knows our niche things about us so that we can present and do the best facilitation possible. And also teaching us how to build bridges across these differences that we may or may not have. So, when you go into these spaces in these rooms, you know that people may not look like you and people may live their lives differently than you, but you can still have a conversation, you can still have a dialogue and you can move forward from there.

Moderator: [00:12:44] You know, all of you are different leaders in multiple different ways, but I want to talk about this one thing that you probably have a similarity with and that is challenges that you may have faced. So, can you tell me at least one time or one of the most kind of challenging aspects of leadership for you personally?

Everyone: [00:13:05] (Silence)

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:13:09] All silence here.

Moderator: [00:13:10] I know, we can let it sit. We can let it sit. DPE has taught me silence is good.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:13:15] Silence is good. It means you’re actually thinking about what the question is. You know, I think every leadership position always has challenges, and I think the biggest challenges are typically to do with interpersonal relationships and how you work with people. Because I don’t think — you know, we’re always going to have difficult decisions to make. We’re always going to have challenging times. And if you can listen and work with each other, you can always overcome a lot of those challenges, and so I think it really boils down to how well can you work with each other, how well can you talk to each other. Is it an open environment where feedback is encouraged and that you’re willing to have people disagree with you. You know, for me it’s really important that the leaders around me are comfortable in telling me what I may not actually want to hear and disagreeing with me in many ways. I think that’s the only way you get to a great solution. So, I think it’s that challenge of how do you create an environment where people do truly feel valued and truly feel like they’re part of the team and willing to, as they say, “Speak truth to power.” So, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges overall for any leader.

Tessa Weinberg: [00:14:47] I would say one of the things that definitely challenges me is kind of like Sidne mentioned is how community is so important with those connections, and I think I often find I really get lost in, you know, the things we have to get done. The logistics. The things we’ll have to do to make sure the org continues, to make sure we’re successful. Really making sure I’m stepping back and taking that time to have those conversations to connect with the people, to get to make sure we have those spaces to just talk about how things are going, which is really important for especially the things we do as facilitators. Being able to know you can rely on them. You know, I’m having a tough day to day, you’ll probably have to step in more. Or when this was said it really made me feel this way, and knowing that they can be there for you in those spaces and moments. So, I think that’s something I definitely struggle with, having to try and balance the things you have to get done with also still making it a space that really feels like a family and community. That we have each other’s backs in that way.

Sidne Fonville: [00:15:41] I’m like the exact opposite. I’m always like, “Oh hey! How’s everyone doing? How’s your day? Let’s just hang out and talk.” And then I get kind of lost in the logistics. I like to brainstorm a lot, but the actual getting it done, like taking things that we talked about and putting it into fruition — that middle part — is always hard for me. So, just keeping that in mind, the final end and goal in mind.

Moderator: [00:16:08] Well, thank you so much for being here today. It was a wonderful conversation. Incredibly insightful, and the work that you’re doing on this campus is really incredible. But before we go, I have one more thing. You excited, you ready?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:21] We’re very ready.

Moderator: [00:16:24] Drum roll! I wish I had a drum roll. OK. What did the tomato say to the other tomato during the race?

Tessa Weinberg: [00:16:31] Ketchup!

Everyone: [00:16:33] (Laughing)

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:34] Good job!

Moderator: [00:16:50] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is “Forest Park Rhapsody,” composed by MU undergraduate and music composition major Ben Colagiovanni. You can find more information about Ben and his piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time, and keep an eye out for the chancellor’s newsletter to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Inside Mizzou. See you around the columns!