Cindy Davis didn’t always think of herself as a natural leader. The CCV student and mother of two spent years out of the workforce while raising her children. Since beginning at CCV just over a year and a half ago, she has become involved in just about every possible leadership activity CCV has to offer.
She has been an orientation leader, a peer mentor, an academic tutor, and a member of the Community of Student Representatives, as well as serving on CCV’s Academic Council. She does it all. But she vividly remembers a time before that was true.
“Coming in here I was terrified. I hadn’t been in school in a long time and had actually been out of the workforce for a while because I had stayed home with my kids. In my orientation, I was just trying to write everything down, and I noticed we had a student leader who was there to answer our questions and provide guidance. That really showed me there was such a strong support system in place at CCV.”
Davis helped organize a recent leadership conference at CCV’s Montpelier academic center, where current student leaders and staff advisors presented on opportunities to get involved in leadership activities. Members of the Community of Student Representatives (CSR), CCV’s student leadership group, spoke about their activities as well as about other leadership roles they have taken on through CCV’s L.E.A.D. programs. Staff also introduced the newly established leadership endorsement, which allows students to earn a credential on their transcript to recognize their involvement with L.E.A.D. activities.
L.E.A.D. stands for “Learn. Engage. Act. Develop,” and is designed to help students build their resumes, work with fellow students, staff, and faculty in diverse environments, and strengthen critical thinking, communication, and project management skills. The L.E.A.D. program encompasses a variety of opportunities for students to try their hand at leadership.
Orientation leaders help orchestrate orientations for new students, guiding them through the ins and outs of getting started as a college student. Peer academic mentors are embedded in certain introductory classes, providing both social camaraderie and academic support to their classmates.
Davis said that peer mentoring is a program she is “totally running with right now.” She mentored in English Composition courses for three consecutive semesters, but is now in a Dimensions course. Dimensions of Work and Dimensions of Freedom are CCV’s two first-semester seminars.
“To me, this is a total gateway course. Most people look at it and say, ‘if I can’t cut it in this course, I’m going to quit college.’ So to have that mentor in there to be able to guide [them is important]. I had emails right after the first class asking for help.”
The L.E.A.D. program also includes the CSR, which organizes service projects and contributes ideas about student life to the administration. Some of CCV’s many work-study positions are also considered part of the L.E.A.D. initiative.
Before coming to CCV and becoming a work-study administrative assistant at CCV Montpelier, John Capitanelli spent two years leading an Americorps team that helped fix up conservation land and hiking trails in Central Vermont. In addition to his responsibilities as a work-study student, he is also a tutor in the Learning and Career Center, a peer academic mentor, a member of both CSR and the Vermont State Colleges Student Association (VSCSA), as well as one of CCV’s six newly minted Job Hunt Helpers, which will take him to the Aldrich Public Library in Barre to work with job seekers.
When I asked how he could manage to fit all of these activities into his schedule, he replied: “You’ve got to make the time. At a community college, the demographics are so wide, so it’s laid out for people who have jobs and lives and kids. CCV works with peoples’ schedules.”
After a few years of working jobs that require strenuous physical labor, he likes working in an office.
“I was a cook and worked in construction, so it’s really nice to work behind a computer. It’s good to have on your resume, to be involved with a lot of activities that the school has to offer. And it’s great to get the experience before you even graduate from college.”
And that’s the crux of the issue. CCV’s leadership programs are a way for students to gain leadership experience and important life skills before they transfer to a four-year school or graduate and head off into the workforce. Capitanelli is majoring in business at CCV and is hoping to transfer to the University of Vermont to pursue his Bachelor’s degree.
Through their participation in CCV’s L.E.A.D. programs, students can earn the new leadership endorsement. The endorsement is an earned credential that recognizes 80 hours of leadership engagement and training, and will appear on a student’s CCV transcript. Students can participate in a wide variety of programs and initiatives to complete their 80 hours, including serving as peer mentors and orientation leaders, planning CCV events such as Harvest for Hunger and Wellness Week, and organizing student-led service projects in local communities, among many others.
CCV Dean of Students Heather Weinstein sees the leadership endorsement simply as a formal recognition of the vibrant community engagement already shown by many CCV students.
“There are so many impressive student leaders at CCV centers across the state, who go above and beyond the work they do in the classroom to contribute to our college community,” she said. “This credential is a great way to recognize their impressive accomplishments.”
Weinstein also thinks the leadership endorsement is an effective way to cast the net wider and encourage even more CCV students to get involved with CCV outside the classroom.
“For people who never thought of themselves as leaders, the leadership endorsement may create an incentive to pursue opportunities they wouldn’t usually think twice about,” said Weinstein. “They might discover that they have a passion for tutoring students who are struggling or organizing a group to clean up the public park in their town.”
After finishing their 80 hours of leadership and tracking each activity they complete, students will be required to complete a portfolio in order to earn the leadership endorsement. The portfolio will demonstrate the development of leadership skills and will ask students to reflect on their personal growth and goals for the future.
Davis’s goal is to graduate from CCV with a degree in Liberal Studies and go on to Johnson State to pursue a Bachelor’s in history. But she said she won’t forget that CCV is where she learned to be a leader.
“If I didn’t have that support system when I was taking a math class, I probably would have quit. I probably would have been one of those students who says ‘college is not for me.’ Being involved now, I’m able to return that favor. I’m able to give that back to another student who might be 18 years old and struggled through high-school and doesn’t know if they’re cut out for college or if they’re 45 and just deciding they want a new career. I can be there for that student, and tell them that they can do it, because I did this and didn’t think I could do it.”