During the fall 2021 semester, students in Binghamton University’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) found a way to give back to the local community still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
ELP is a certificate-based program that occurs every fall semester designed for first-year and transfer students in their first semester at Binghamton to help them develop and practice leadership skills within the framework of a specific area of interest. Students are grouped into six Knowledge Communities (KCs) — Arts and Humanities; Business and Entrepreneurship; Environment and Ecology; Global Awareness and Citizenship; Public Service; and Sports, Recreation and Wellness. This year the program included 72 new students, 12 peer mentors (current Binghamton students, some of whom are ELP alumni), and faculty and staff advisors.
Tyler Lenga, assistant director of student transition and success, who oversees ELP, explained that the program allows for students to learn about the local community and make connections with organizations in the area as well as members of the University community through the planning and implementation of a service project.
“They’re tasked with finding a community organization to work with and then designing what their project is going to be as it relates to their particular Knowledge Community,” Lenga said. “The theme of their KC is the lens through which they’re looking at leadership for the entire semester. They look at what it’s like to take on leadership roles in business and entrepreneurship or what that looks like in the arts and humanities field.”
The students end their service projects with a poster symposium, where each group creates a poster explaining the work they’ve done and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
According to Lenga, this year the students mostly focused on helping youth in the area by designing events that taught them about issues that affect them.
“The early conversations centered around youth and issues that might be more prevalent because of the pandemic,” Lenga said. “The students coming into the program spent their last year in high school virtually, and I think that was a big conversation for the groups. They learned about the needs of the local Binghamton community, but also how those needs related to youth in particular.”
The Sports, Recreation and Wellness KC focused on childhood obesity and sought to teach local youth the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The group partnered with the Lee Barta Community Center in Binghamton to put on a Healthy Living Fair for middle schoolers. Some of the activities in the fair included a Zumba class, lessons on how to make healthy snacks, a smoothie bike — a stationary bicycle that harnesses the cyclist’s pedaling energy to power a blender — and more.
Barbara Santos, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience and one of the two mentors for the Sports, Recreation and Wellness KC, said that she chose to come back as a mentor due to how ELP impacted her time at Binghamton when she participated in the program.
“As an incoming freshman during a pandemic, I struggled to get to know other students and make friends,” Santos said. “However, being a part of ELP allowed me to positively impact the Binghamton community and also get to know amazing people along the way. My mentors and my peers became a second family to me. ELP has been an eye-opening experience. As I learned about ongoing issues around the world, I grew as a person. I developed a greater passion for helping the community and those around me.”
Also focusing on youth, the Environment and Ecology KC worked with Port Dickinson Elementary School, teaching second graders about food shortages and climate change. The group gave a presentation about how students can protect the environment and organized an interactive activity, giving the elementary students marigold seeds to bring home.
“What they accomplished was great,” Lenga said. “They worked with youth and tried to inspire them to do more to protect the climate. The school district said this was one of the first things like that they’ve been able to do since the pandemic started, so they were appreciative of being able to provide something like this to their students, too.”
Olivia Connolly, a sophomore majoring in biology, and Joe Knudsen, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience served as peer mentors for the Environment and Ecology KC.
Knudsen said that, though he did not participate in the program as a mentee, he was excited to take on this opportunity and learn more about how to be a leader, not as someone who just delegates tasks, but as someone people can come to for help.
“ELP provided me with an outlet to build on my current leadership roles,” Knudsen said. “I think the difference between being a good leader and a great leader is mentorship. I learned to be a guide and a confidant. Being a role model became a job rather than a passive task. As a mentor, I felt responsibility for the successes and failures of my team, not because I led it, but because I was invested in the team.”
Connolly was a new student in ELP during her first year at Binghamton, where she learned important leadership skills such as confidence, public speaking and how to work in a group setting.
“I decided to come back as a mentor because of how much I looked up to my mentors while I was in ELP,” Connolly said. “I also wanted to push myself to take on a leadership role that intimidated me because I knew I would grow into a better version of myself, which I believe I have. Being a leader on this project has been one of the best experiences I have had. The most fulfilling part has been the relationships I have formed with my mentees. Guiding them through this project and personal problems has made me a better person. I have learned so much more about myself and how to be a leader because of them.”