While Buffalo State faculty members are committed to providing students with the knowledge to land jobs in their majors, a handful of administrators, athletic coaches, and other professional staff members are helping students gain one of the most sought-after workplace skills— leadership.
“We realize it’s a necessary skill that students nationwide have lacked,” said Ashley Goodwin, ’09, ’11, assistant director of student leadership and engagement. “Employers report they need more workers who have a good grasp of soft skills like communication, creative problem-solving, and leadership.”
Over the last few years, the college has increased programming that teaches students how to be effective and creative leaders, speak in public, resolve conflicts, and serve on a team. For instance, for the past three years, the college’s Student Leadership and Engagement Office has hosted Camp 1871, a three-day, two-night leadership retreat for first-year and first-semester transfer students at Cradle Beach in Angola, New York.
During the most recent retreat, held in October, 35 students engaged in activities to promote teamwork and develop the organizational and motivational skills needed to solve problems and reach objectives. Activities included such exercises as using yarn to create a physical web that illustrates their unique connections and differences based on a series of questions surrounding inclusivity and privilege. They also split into groups tasked with building the tallest spaghetti tower.
“This activity assessed the temperament, creativity, inclusivity of others, leadership emergence, and the overall ability of the students to perform as a team to build something unique and innovative,” Goodwin said.
After the camp, students reported that they wanted to see more value-based leadership educational opportunities, according to Luke Haumesser, associate director of student leadership and engagement.
Timothy Gordon, vice president for student affairs, noted, “We started Camp 1871 [whose name is a nod to the year Buffalo State was founded] as a more strategic and comprehensive approach to encouraging and stoking leadership in students.”
Goodwin is also spearheading Next Level Leadership, a relaunched program that began this fall. It’s composed of six workshops held once a month on the fourth floor of the Campbell Student Union, with such topics as “Breaking the Mold” and “Civic Engagement.” Although the program is open to all students, those currently serving in leadership roles, such as orientation leaders, resident assistants, and career facilitators, are especially encouraged to participate, Gordon said.
And it’s more than just a campus activity; it’s a résumé-builder. Students who participate in all six workshops receive a certificate of completion.
“It’s something tangible that shows potential employers what students have learned and achieved,” Goodwin said.
Another newer campus leadership initiative is the Men of Merit series, biweekly programming spearheaded by Michael Heflin, ’91, ’93, director of the Equity and Campus Diversity Office.
Modeled after a similar program at SUNY Erie (ECC), Men of Merit began in fall 2018 as a way to help male students, especially students of color, succeed academically. Undergirding all the programming is a push toward fostering qualities of integrity, excellence, and distinction, Heflin said. Workshops such as “Finding Your Why” and “Managing Your Emotions” take place during Bengal Pause in different buildings throughout campus.
“We know that retention of black males on college campuses is suffering,” Heflin said. “We want to increase self-awareness and help them see the opportunities available to them.”
The second annual Men of Merit Conference will be held Saturday, November 23, in Bulger Communication Center, in concert with Say Yes Buffalo and ECC. Speakers from all three institutions and a few community leaders and entrepreneurs will speak. Last year, almost 120 participants attended—from 12-year-old boys through college students.
“The purpose is to inspire young men by leaders who look like them,” Heflin said.
Across campus, team captains and captains-in-training for each of the college’s athletics teams are also tapping into their leadership potential through the new Leadership Academy.
Founded by Jamie Brown, head softball coach who joined Buffalo State two years ago, the Leadership Academy is composed of seven half-day workshops hosted by the Athletics Department each year.
“Our captains need leadership training, just like the development of any physical skill,” Brown said. “We just assume they know how to do it. In addition to what coaches can provide, we thought this training would be a way to ensure that students get it.”
So far, about 40 students have participated. Along with increasing students’ leadership ability, she said, another benefit of the academy is having athletes from different sports talking to one another.
“After the first meeting, the captains formed a group chat and decided to go to one another’s games,” she said.
Buffalo State students can also gain leadership experience in less formal settings. For example, they can volunteer for campus programming like Homecoming or Fall Fashion Week or join United Students Government, Gordon said.
“One of the components of the leadership workshops is to have students explore different styles of leadership in order to identify with one that best describes their own,” Goodwin said. “For example, just because students identify as introverted doesn’t mean they can’t be effective leaders. They can operate behind the scenes, make critical decisions, organize an event, or get a club or organization off the ground. Leadership comes in many forms.”