Photo Courtesy of Switchboard
On Dec. 1, applications open for 15 students to participate in a program that connects students with OU alumni in their field.
Leadership OU is a program that was founded in 2013 after the office of Alumni Engagement wanted to find a way for alumni to get more involved, while also including current juniors and seniors.
“I wanted to be a part of LOU because it was an opportunity to redefine what success meant to me through the lens of leadership outside campus, while simultaneously learning more about myself through open conversations about shared experiences with my mentor,” Malaena Caldwell said.
The program focuses on leadership, mentoring and networking. It focuses on those three main ideas in two parts, which is the formal mentoring where 15 alumni and 15 students are paired together and a series of formal speaker sessions.
Mentors and mentees focus on a personal and professional relationship with one another. Usually they meet each other once a month. Alumni interested in becoming a mentor can fill out an interest form, and the office looks at their interests and sees if they would be a good fit for the program. The office takes pride in looking for diverse candidates who have different careers and experiences.
“A lot of mentors say they wish they had a program like this when they were a student,” said Amanda Silvestri, graduate assistant in the office of alumni engagement. “A lot of the mentors say they grew so much as a student from certain people like a professor, so they want to give back to students to give them that experience.”
Students have to attend monthly speaker sessions during the program. The program runs the course of the academic year, starting in September and ending in April. The speaker sessions are presented by OU alumni profound in their fields through years of experience and understand the importance of leadership, mentoring and networking, getting them to where they are today.
“I joined LOU because I wanted to connect with other students and alumni to expand my network and prepare myself for the professional world,” Benjamin Nicol said.
For the 2021-2022 cohort there is going to be a different approach, where the students are going to be picked first. In the past, mentors were always picked first and then students were picked based on the mentor.
“There are more mentors to pick from than there are students,” Silvestri said. “We want to pick great students and match them up with whatever mentor is in the [students] field. I think it would be interesting to see a different perspective of picking the students first.”
Leadership OU’s ideal candidate isn’t always the highest achieving student who is a resident assistant, the president of the student body or someone involved with lots of organizations on campus — it’s someone who is genuinely interested in the program.
“We look for all different types of people, so when we’re interviewing students and looking through applications — we really look for somebody that genuinely wants to be involved in the program,” Silvestri said.
They examine the students who apply to see if they need help with leadership, networking or mentoring skills. Who the student says is their mentor can play a part, too. If a student doesn’t have a professional mentor, that could be a big indicator that they need a program like this one to benefit them, Silvestri mentioned.
They want to make sure that the program is beneficial to all students who join and look at each applicant to the fullest.
“If you are involved a lot, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at you because we look at all different types of people in different fields of study like nursing, education, science, politics — or whatever your major is,” said Silvestri “You can definitely find a place in leadership OU.”
Once selected into the program, students are typically paired with a mentor who is in the student’s field of study. That doesn’t always happen, though.
“We like to get to know the students and the mentors before we pair them,” Silvestri said.
Silvestri said that having a good relationship with mentors, mentees and speakers helps her pick up on the personalities of everyone, so when it comes to pairing, if a student isn’t matched with someone in their field, they can still connect in other ways.
“I have a pair that was in Greek Life and another that’s really involved in health and wellness,” Silvestri said. “They aren’t in the same field, but with everything else they are the exact same person.”
Even after the program ends students are still connected with their mentor creating a lasting connection, and a mentorship that goes beyond Leadership OU.
“She was my parent’s age and maybe a little older, but her personality is so young and we were able to connect so well,” Silvestri said. “I talked to her every month and we have monthly meet ups, and it’s so nice having that.”
Silvestri applied for Leadership OU during her junior year, but didn’t get the opportunity to join. That didn’t hold her back, because she reapplied her senior year and got a spot on that year’s cohort.
“I was so confused with what I wanted to do with my life after graduating, so having a mentor guided me through that, gave me resources, talked me through career paths, helped me apply for this graduate assistantship, she helped me practice for the interview and she said that the best day was when I called her and told her that I got it [the graduate assistantship],” she said.
The 2020-2021 cohort emphasizes their love for the program — even after a few short months of being connected with their mentors and attending the speaker sessions.
“Leadership OU has already made a tremendous impact on my life through connecting me to a knowledgeable and inspiring mentor, introducing me to amazing student leaders, allowing me to enhance my leadership skills — as well as connecting me to career networks and the OU community,” Kaylee Hall said.
Join the 2021-2022 cohort by applying when applications open on Dec. 1 and close at the end of February.