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Building the Leaders of Tomorrow

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Entrepreneurship and Leadership programs engage Upper School students in hands-on, on- and off-campus learning.
This article originally appeared in the latest issue of The Colonnade

The opportunities for real-world learning in Steward’s Upper School stand out among area independent schools.  Service learning and the Minimester program, a week-long opportunity for internships, travel, and special projects, have been long traditions. More recently, the Entrepreneurship Program, which launched in 2017, and the Leadership Program, which is in its inaugural year, have enhanced students’ options.

Leadership Program Launches
 
In the inaugural semester of the new Upper School Leadership Program, 18 freshmen are focusing on exploring their personal leadership style through both individual and group work.

“Additionally, we are planning a second-semester case study workshop with the Jepson Student Government Association from the University of Richmond’s Leadership School,” Eliza McGehee, Leadership Program coordinator, said. “We are so excited about this opportunity for our students to learn from young leaders.”

The program’s curriculum also includes lessons on group dynamics and conflict resolution, as well as service learning. The students, who participate from freshman through junior year, will more confidently step into leadership roles in their senior year at Steward and adulthood.

“One of the main reasons I joined the Leadership Program was to learn how to work better in groups, through cooperation and taking into consideration other people's differences and opinions,” Xavier Nelson ’25 said. “Being able to empathize with someone else is a good skill to have not just now but in the future as well.”

Entrepreneurship Back in Full Swing
 
“Last school year, we learned the art of the pitch through on-campus academic study,” said Melissa Freed, Entrepreneurship Program advisor. “This year, we’re taking that knowledge on the road.”
 
Entrepreneurship students are working with Saxon Shoes, a long-time Richmond institution, on multigenerational marketing ideas. The students have firsthand access to Saxon’s business leaders to ask questions, generate market-savvy ideas, and “pitch” to the company’s leadership.
 
These lessons will expand throughout the spring, including a planned partnership with Pello, a local manufacturer of high-end bicycles, and participating in the pitch fair at Charlottesville-area TomTom Summit & Festival, which brings people together to focus on ideas for the future. 

The addendum below highlights a recent trip that Leadership Program students took to University of Richmond.

Ethics and Leadership
Life lessons beyond the classroom

Students in Steward’s Leadership Program recently met with students in University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies program to discuss the role of ethics in leadership. Eliza McGehee, Upper School social studies teacher and director of the Leadership Program, said UR’s expertise in this popular area of study made the Jepson School a perfect fit for a morning filled with idea exchanges and mentorship. 

“They really are pioneers in this type of programming and scholarship,” said Ms. McGehee of University of Richmond. Kerstin Soderlund, associate dean for student & external affairs at the Jepson School, facilitated the gathering with the Jepson Student Government Association and introduced a “thought experiment” exercise – a hypothetical scenario that tasked students with making a difficult ethical decision. In small groups, they discussed what decision they’d make and why. Leading the brainstorming sessions, UR students stressed that an ethical perspective, which can often be quite nuanced, is crucial to effective decision-making and leadership.  

Justin Fratkin ’25 said, “This activity forced us to think about what the best choice would be for everyone [in a difficult situation].” He noted that Steward’s Leadership Program, which emphasizes the importance of conflict resolution, global engagement, and social justice, “has forced me to look at leadership in different ways. I am grateful to be part of this program and for all it has taught me and will continue to teach me.”

Since joining Steward’s program, Shreya Natarajan ’25 has reexamined her definition of leadership.

“Previously, I thought of it as one person who represented or was in charge of a group of people,” she said. “Now, I understand that there are also ‘silent leaders’ like Rachel Carson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Furthermore, leadership does not have one face; there are leaders who are not in traditional roles but who inspire others every day. As we delve into more conversations about leadership, I find myself trying to focus more on developing the attributes of a good leader, including supporting others and building trust.”

For Brian Archer ’25, the biggest takeaway from the trip to UR was that good leadership can be applied to all situations and careers. Steward’s program has led him to become more conscientious of his actions on campus and off. 

“I think the program will benefit me in the future whether it be on a college transcript or in a real-life situation,” he said. “This program has shown me ways to think outside the box.” 

Collaborating with Jepson students gave Spartans an opportunity “to connect with and learn from their peers,” said Ms. McGehee. “The UR students are only a few years older, but they have a wealth of knowledge and experience.” The partnership with UR “fits into the Steward approach because we are taking a deep dive into complex questions and considering them from multiple perspectives.” Spartan student-leaders, she noted, “are setting themselves up with skills that they can apply later on when a more complicated situation might pop up.” 

Take a look at the Steward Snaps from our Leadership Program students' trip to UR.


 







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