Retreat offers students a taste of leadership
Undeterred by a debilitating blender accident, Evan Blievernicht ’22 and Erin Chavez ’21 persevered with their dessert mission.
Using only their right hands, the Carthage underclassmen worked in tandem to mix brownie batter and pour it into foil baking pans. A bandana kept their left hands tied together, the only visible sign of a smoothie-making injury that had rendered them temporarily unusable.
In fact, an inordinately large number of sketchy-sounding kitchen mishaps were reported that day.
Clumsy cooks? No, more like resilient future leaders.
This was a teamwork exercise at the Emerging Leaders Retreat in January. As students drifted in and out of the crowded kitchen to prepare tacos and assorted sides, facilitators periodically disrupted the meal prep to assign fake injuries and test the teams’ adaptability.
The intensive overnight event drew 15 freshmen and sophomores to Army Lake Camp and Retreat Center in East Troy, about 40 miles northwest of campus.
“Everything I’ve done here is pertinent to what I do,” he said.
Besides serving as an elected freshman senator, Evan is the liaison between Student Government and student organizations. Next stop on the leadership track, fingers crossed, is a resident assistant position.
Ryan Huntington and Becky Windberg from the Division of Student Affairs divided retreat-goers into three teams with color-coded bandanas. The aspiring leaders worked through a mixed bag of active and introspective exercises.
“The biggest thing I learned is not everyone comes in as passionate as I am,” Evan said. “It’s about being able to inspire.”
Carthage offers a series of leadership-focused events throughout the academic year, culminating with the Student Leadership Awards in spring. The campus also has a thriving chapter of national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa, which recently received a Membership Growth and Stability Award.
The retreat was first held during J-Term 2018, backed by a crowdfunding campaign. It clearly left an impression; five of the initial participants returned this winter as peer facilitators to help groom the next wave of up-and-comers.
“I kind of grew into my leadership abilities after I came here,” said Madison Ganir ’21, a softball player for the Lady Reds who serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Other facilitators appreciated that the program scuttles some common misconceptions. Discovering that there’s no single template for leaders gave Serina Hernandez ’21 a boost of confidence.
She’s now the senior social chair for Pi Theta sorority and an RA at Madrigrano Family Residence Hall.
“I learned that, just because I didn’t picture myself as the ideal leader, I could still be a leader on campus,” Serina said.
Deep connections grew out of the 2018 retreat, where strangers became close friends in a 24-hour span. Mr. Huntington, who coordinates leadership development at Carthage, senses students’ thirst for that kind of immersive format.
“A lot of these experiences happen at middle and high schools, but, when you get to college, it’s just different,” he said. “This is a little bit nostalgic.”
Feedback deems the cooking session a keeper, one that offers more lasting takeaways than lunch. Students got to try out some of the primary tools in a leader’s toolkit, like planning, delegating, sharing limited resources, and navigating group dynamics.
Students enjoyed the chance to practice decision-making in a safe setting, knowing the consequences wouldn’t follow them back to campus — not even the imaginary scars.