Institute fosters leadership among student body

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 24, 2010 – It’s a three-day experience that impacts an entire college career. The University of Rhode Island’s Leadership Institute has given many of the brightest minds a rolling start into their time on campus.

Now celebrating its 10th year of permanent status on campus, the Institute – run through the Center for Student Leadership Development – is a three-day retreat that brings together approximately 100 students at the start of each school year. It targets students who demonstrated leadership skills during their high school years.

Four years ago, senior Ryan Alexander arrived at URI as a freshman unsure of the path he wanted to take at URI. His introduction to the University came through the Leadership Institute, which he learned about through a chance meeting with program coordinator Robert Vincent.

“When you get to the Institute, you have peer leaders, people who encourage you,” Alexander said. “They give you the green light and that affirmation that you can do whatever it is you want at URI. You can be a leader, too. That was the nudge I needed.”

After going through the program as a freshman and then serving as a mentor as a sophomore and junior, Alexander returned this year as co-coordinator of the Institute with fellow senior Katie Rose.

“The Leadership Institute was really the catalyst for my URI experience,” said Alexander, a psychology major. “It was like this amazing group of peer leaders gave me a jet pack and helped me take off when I arrived here.

“The Institute was a chance to break out and meet new people. It gave me a chance to network right away at URI, and it allowed me to challenge myself socially and intellectually.”

Since former URI President Robert L. Carothers brought the Institute to campus in 1997, more than 1,000 students have participated. Many of those alumni will return to campus on October 14 for a Leadership Institute reunion in the Galanti Lounge of the University Library.

In addition, more than 250 students have completed the Leadership Studies minor, including Alexander, who decided to pursue the minor after going through the Institute.

“The Leadership Institute at URI has impacted me in a way that is hard to put into words,” Alexander said. “Once you go through it, you feel compelled to give back in any way you can. That’s what a lot of the Institute is about, servant leadership. You allow yourself to be a vessel to serve others.

“After going through this, you feel part of a greater community. This is one big family. Everyone may have different paths, but they all have an eye for self-discovery.”

As participants in the Institute, students examine issues of multiculturalism, inclusion, civic and community participation. There are philosophical discussions as well as networking with peers and faculty and staff at the University.

“Every year, I’ve seen it change,” Alexander said. “Each year has unique coordinators who have different leadership styles and perspectives, but there are always the same themes embedded within. You learn about yourself, as well as the University. You also find you always have a great group of people you can turn to for support.”