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Levitt Leadership Institute returns for fourth year

By Eli Spang ’17

Former United States Ambassador Prudence Bushnell returned to Hamilton Jan. 12-16 to lead her fourth year of the Levitt Leadership Institute. A group of 24 Hamilton students joined her for the first week of the two-part institute that will continue during spring break. The week involved leadership exercises, seminars, interviews and projects that took the students from KJ classrooms, to Utica businesses and even into the McEwen kitchen.

As founder of the institute, Bushnell has an extensive background in leadership, including appointments as Ambassador to Kenya and Guatemala. Bushnell has also gained experience teaching leadership as Dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute and as CEO of her own leadership consultation company, Sage Associates.

Working with Bushnell was Chris Powers, a leadership trainer who has taught at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Foreign Service Institute and at Sage Associates with Bushnell. Levitt Leadership Alumni Kevin Alexander ’13, Isabelle Van Hook ’11, and Tsion Tesfaye ’16 provided further help with seminars and activities. The combined experience of the group resulted in a polished and engaging five-day program that covered topics such as communication, conflict resolution and team building.

In order to approach these topics with self-awareness and an understanding of their personality and interaction styles, each student was given the Myers-Briggs personality test and the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Instrument. Students were then led through seminars that focused on how to analyze these test results and use them to refine their individual leadership techniques.

During the seminars, Bushnell added many anecdotes from her time at the State Department and spoke on the powerful leadership required to respond to challenges like the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

Bushnell’s passion for her work emerged from these stories and was moving for many of the students. “Even just sharing the air with someone with [Bushnell’s] insight, perspective and strength was inspiring,” said Margaret Hylas ’15.

Bushnell emphasized the importance of taking charge of situations and providing clear direction, telling the students, “Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something. Take action.”

“Many of the problems of my generation still remain now,” said Bushnell, and “transformational leaders are needed to solve these problems.” Bushnell described this year’s Levitt Leadership students as a “heartening” group and displayed confidence that they will be able to create positive change.

The students were provided with many opportunities to practice their leadership through a series of team initiatives. One initiative involved working with Bon Appetite Executive Chef Derek Roy and his team to prepare food for an evening reception with President Joan Hinde Stewart.

The students were separated into three groups that were each given two dishes to prepare and present. The busy kitchen and the complexity of dishes, including wild mushroom duxelles and tuna maki rolls, tested the teams’ cohesiveness. The skills learned throughout the week proved to be helpful, and all the dishes received positive reviews from President Stewart.

In addition to the team initiatives, students were given opportunities to interact with local leaders. A reception for Larry Gilroy ’81 provided an opportunity to learn how he used a post-college job at the FX Matt Brewing Company in Utica to develop the skills that have led him to his position as president of Gilroy, Kernan & Gilroy Insurance.

The students were provided with further views of leadership in the community as they conducted interviews with local businesspeople, doctors and representatives from the State Police, local NAACP and the Utica Refugee Center. Each community member was interviewed by a pair of students who researched questions and practiced interview technique in preparation. Following the interviews, the students reported back to the group and shared what they had learned during the interview process

Following the work of this week, the group will travel to Washington D.C. from March 15-19 to complete the second half of the program. Week Two will involve a networking event with Hamilton alumni, as well as visits throughout the capital region to meet with leaders in a variety of fields. The students are expected to plan all of the events in Washington and ensure that scheduling, logistics and execution are successful.

Finding motivation for this work should not be difficult as the week promises to be very rewarding. “I’m excited to talk to Washington leaders in action,” said Isaac Kirschner ’17, “and see how their work aligns with the skills we’ve learned so far.”

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