Adjusting to college can be difficult for some incoming first-year students. It can be tough to manage schoolwork, new classes, a new environment, and finding where you fit on campus.
Every student has individual strengths and talents, and are encouraged to use their specific talents to “make their mark” during their time here at Denison. For some first-year students, “making their mark” may seem a daunting task. There are a multitude of opportunities help them figure out what they want their “mark” to be.
DU Lead is one such opportunity. Each fall since 2008, the DU Lead program offers a leadership retreat exclusively for first-year students. Much of the retreat is built around relationships. Students engage in various activities and seminars. They form relationships with other first-year students in small groups, and they are paired with an upperclassman club-leader who will be their mentor throughout their time at Denison.
Everything that happens at DU Lead is centered around leadership and creating a space for students to grow individually, and as a group, as Denison’s newest class of campus leaders.
According to Matthew Vetter, director of Denison’s Alford Community Leadership & Involvement Center (CLIC) and DU Lead co-facilitator, DU Lead focuses “on how students can identify their leadership skills and learn how to make their mark on Denison’s campus.”
Vetter believes that one of the major benefits of DU Lead is the ability for students to “jumpstart their Denison experience.”
DU Lead connects students immediately with resources for how they can get engaged on campus, and also challenges them to think purposefully and intentionally about who they are and how they personally can contribute to the Denison community.
“Leadership is not a role or a position, and it is not something that is inherent in a student’s abilities. But by attending DU Lead, students can grow in their leadership capacities, learn the skills and competencies, and learn how to be a leader at Denison,” said Vetter.
This year DU Lead was coordinated by Coco Alban ’20 and Allen Primack ’21, both alumni of the DU Lead program.
Primack says that DU Lead “was definitely a transformative experience for me. I was able to form new friendships that I have maintained, and my two club advisors from D.U. Lead, Oliver and Madina, served as amazing upperclassmen mentors during the weekend. My overall impression of the weekend was my interpretation of it as a challenging, yet fulfilling experience.”
Alban noted, “I thought that the experience was super cool and a little overwhelming. It was a place where other first-years could meet each other and think about how they can find what they want to do and make change on campus. It was exciting to see how passionate others were to be on campus and to get involved.”
First-years Grace Klein and Sarah Moon both enjoyed meeting their fellow peers and connecting with upperclassmen.
Moon said, “I did enjoy attending DU Lead mainly because of the relationships that I formed with other students, including upperclassman…I got to talk to students I have never met before, and I learned a lot. I was surprised by how open-minded and willing the upperclassman were to approach to the freshman. I feel like it was a great experience for me to reflect back on my leadership values and styles.”
“Leadership-wise, the most valuable thing I learned is that it is important to recognize that everyone has different leadership styles,” said Klein.
On the topic of leadership sessions, Moon noted, “At first, I was very tired. However, as time passed, I got more confident to speak up in front of other people, and learned different leadership values that were necessary to be the leader in a community. As a person who has always enjoyed holding a leadership position, I got to look back on myself and think carefully about those values.”
Part of what makes the Denison experience so unique is the fact that students are constantly pushed to get out of their comfort zones and gain new experiences.
Each first-year student who participated in DU Lead attended the program for different reasons. Some students wished to refine leadership skills, others attended in order to meet their peers and upperclassmen. Whatever the motive may be, Vetter assures that, “Regardless of the reason that you are coming, you will be entering into a welcoming community and will learn what it means to be a leader on Denison’s campus.”