Nurturing Students Who Take the Lead

City College pre-med student Jay-Sheree Allen works with a nonprofit she founded that offers underprivileged girls and women
tutoring and mentoring plus professional and personal development workshops.

A complete loss of vision at 9 months didn't limit Liliete Lopez after she came to the U.S. from Nicaragua in 1990, 13 years old and never having attended school.

Lopez began her education at 16, learning English to earn her GED. Today she is one of 25 students from across the University selected as 2009-2010 Leadership Academy Fellows.

Classmates at Hostos Community College, where Lopez is a liberal arts and science major, gave her a standing ovation when her name was called at the Academy's opening ceremony and reception at Hostos this fall. Representing 16 colleges and 20 majors, Lopez and her Leadership peers comprise the second batch of fellows since the Academy was established in 2007 to teach advanced leadership skills. This class of fellows was selected largely for the leadership they demonstrated as strong advocates and effective leaders on campus and in their communities. Some serve on campus clubs, assist in their churches, at shelters, soup kitchens, halfway houses and nursing homes; some create their own organizations.

"When you look at the problems we are facing in these United States and globally you realize that many are a result of a lack of leadership," said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who told the fellows: "The world is going to be better because of you."

Keynote speaker Philip A. Berry, vice chairperson of the Board of Trustees, added, "A leader is different from other individuals …. You are being nurtured and grooming yourself. You will create the paradigm shift to show how things can be different."

The Leadership Academy was conceived by Garrie W. Moore, the former vice chancellor for student affairs who retired this fall. Moore envisaged the academy as the University focal point for leadership courses, conferences, experiences and contacts long associated with Ivy League colleges. Moore's goal was to have every student graduate with the leadership skills that are increasingly sought by the business, nonprofit and academic spheres. Such training is available today on all campuses. Building upon this mission is the academy's executive director, Joe-Joe McManus, who holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership and joined CUNY in February 2008. McManus has brought together campus leadership educators to form the CUNY Leadership Development Council, which created a model for producing global leaders based on self-awareness, identity development, cultural competency, civic engagement, community building and professional excellence. "We wanted to develop something that drew from the … great programs that have developed over the years in leadership," McManus said.

The academy offers three core programs: the year-long Fellows Program; a CUNY Ambassadors Program in which students develop skills and acumen to advocate for their community and issues they're passionate about; and CUNY Corps, to nurture leaders who focus on service on campus, in the community, the city and internationally.

Welcoming the audience at the opening ceremony, McManus said CUNY has a "great tradition" of producing leaders in an array of disciplines. President Barack Obama, he noted, did some of his early community organizing at City College. "The challenges we face as a nation remind us of the importance of well-prepared and socially conscious leadership," McManus said.

A surprise announcement that the Verizon Foundation had donated a $5,000 scholarship for each fellow was greeted with resounding applause. McManus later commented, "This is extremely important for our students, many of whom work one or two jobs in addition to attending classes. These scholarships will lighten the load and allow the students to focus on the rigors of their class work as well as the additional opportunities and responsibilities of the fellows program."

Jay-Sheree Allen and William Leverett, both 20, two fellows whom McManus views as promising future leaders, have plans for the money.

Allen, a Jamaican immigrant and a pre-med student at City College, will devote it to Women of Excellence, Strength and Tenacity, Inc., a nonprofit she founded and heads. It seeks to empower underprivileged girls 9 to 12, and women 18 and older, offering them tutoring, mentoring and self-esteem and professional and personal development workshops. The academy, Allen said, is "leadership boot camp." She wants to lead, she said, "because I've been blessed, and I've been charged with being a blessing to others."

A political science and urban studies junior at Queens College, Leverett will save his $5,000 to propel future plans. He hopes to combine the arts and policy-making to provide funding for community groups addressing homelessness and other social ills. "The academy is a place that can mold you," he said. "Even though you might not have a direct vision of what you want to change, it molds you into that person. Once your passion hits you, you can take off running. This is going to be an intense, productive year to help us grow even more, and I look forward to that."

Leverett is a former Eagle Scout. He plays clarinet and tenor saxophone, and is involved in the University's Black Male Initiative; in Yearup, a workforce development program for youth that offers private sector experience; and other nonprofits that provide leadership opportunities.

Lopez, 32, who is in her last semester at Hostos, will use her $5,000 to buy a laptop she will load with software for the blind, and to help pay for future education. Bound for Queens College to study political science, she plans to advocate for low-income people and people with disabilities, and run for office. "I will be fighting for individual rights," she said.

At Hostos, she helps with college registration and orientation, and was vice president of Ability Awareness, a club for people with disabilities. She participates in the Hostos Leadership Academy whose goal is "to promote leadership as a skill necessary to every single person and a skill to be utilized in every aspect of a person's life."

The CUNY Leadership Academy's website is www.cla.cuny.edu.