By Erika Gaffney, Major: MIS, Graduation: May 2014
From January 6 to 11, the McCombs Office of Student Life organized the annual Leadershape® Institute. The purpose of the LeaderShape® Institute is to provide a breakthrough in the leadership capacity of participants and facilitators. In this blog, Erika Gaffney shares her experiences from this intense and highly interactive leadership program.
Can you imagine spending six days in one place with 60 other people that you have never met? Can you imagine leaving at the end of day six, wishing you could spend another two weeks with the same 60 people, who are no longer strangers?
There is no way to describe the experience I had at LeaderShape that will do it any justice. There isn’t anything that I would trade for my time at this retreat. In that short amount of time, I forgot about the world outside of Newcombe Tennis Ranch.
I learned so much about who I am as a leader and even more about who I am as a person, like I am ten times more energetic than other people. I became friends with the entirety of the sixty students I attended with. I played an insane amount of group games that I had never heard of (and, trust me, by the end, I was dying to play more). And, without giving too much away, I challenged myself to do things I never thought I could do.
LeaderShape isn’t just a building experience. It didn’t just take who I already was and made me into a better leader. It also helped me discover parts of myself that I didn’t know existed and that I am happy to claim as being part of who I am. For instance, I have a passion for underprivileged kids that goes deeper than I realized. Oh, and I apparently love bread pudding.
When applying for LeaderShape, one question on the application was to include a vision for the future to make the world a better place. My vision was one in which underprivileged children would have the knowledge to apply and go to college. Going into LeaderShape, I was unsure what to do with my new and underdeveloped aspiration. Through an intensive and gratifying week I polished my vision for the future and developed goals to help bring it to life.
The week began with a focus on building a community. We built our LeaderShape community by being introduced to what we called the Learning Community (all of us as a big group) and forming our Family Clusters (a smaller setting with nine students). The Family Clusters became an important part to the experience and was a safe place to grow as a person and make mistakes. As the week progressed, we discussed leadership being a group effort, looking beyond what is to see what can be, bringing our visions to reality, leading with integrity, and staying in action after the week’s end.
At one point during the retreat we all sat down to further develop our visions. I realized then that the future I wanted wasn’t necessarily all kids going to college, rather all kids knowing that they have the opportunity to break the mold and get a higher education. Further on in the week, we each came up attainable goals having to do with our unique visions. I am now in the process of reaching one of my goals by volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.
The best part of LeaderShape was what I walked away with. I had new goals for the future, an actual plan to start helping underprivileged kids, and a support system larger than I had ever experienced.
Nobody can take away what I learned and how I changed through this experience. Nobody can take away the bond I share with each and every person I met that week.
Can you imagine it now?