Learning to Lead Inclusively

By Katya Hrichak

Summer 2023 Colman Inclusive Leadership Program participants
Participants in the summer 2023 Colman Inclusive Leadership Program.

Being a graduate student means taking on many roles—student, researcher, collaborator, instructor, mentor, and leader among them. Seeking to enhance their skills, 28 doctoral students participated in the summer 2023 Colman Inclusive Leadership Program.

The three-day immersive virtual program provided participants with knowledge to support their development as inclusive leaders, whether they find themselves in formal or informal leadership roles in their labs, classrooms, student organizations, or other aspects of life.

“The Colman Inclusive Leadership Program had a profound impact on me, molding my future aspirations as a professor,” said Samuel Deck, a doctoral student in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology. “Armed with these lessons, I am driven to promote positive change, foster inclusivity, and embrace diversity in all areas of my professional and personal lives.”

The most prominent takeaway for Deck was the transformative power of empathy and active listening. For materials science and engineering doctoral student Bashayer Aldakkan, it was the power of self-awareness. By reflecting on her leadership approach, she can capitalize on her strengths and tailor her approaches for different situations, she said.

During the program, participants were introduced to practical skills, leadership theories, and topics that could be applied to both academic and professional contexts through readings, interactive group activities, case studies, and discussion.

“Many of the instructors and participants provided insightful ways to improve current academic leadership styles and shared honest experiences of what it feels like to be marginalized in a system that is historically exclusive,” said Stephanie Rich, a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering. “The personal testimonies shared during the program resonated with me, and I will draw on them to be a more empathetic leader in my career.”

This year, Cornell students were joined by participants from institutions affiliated with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-funded Sloan University Centers for Exemplary Mentoring Scholars and Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP) Programs. The virtual offering allowed Nicole Benally, a student-parent and SIGP scholar at the University of Montana, to increase her leadership knowledge.

“It is important to develop leadership skills because you are always going to be a mentor or teacher to someone, and they deserve the best of you,” she said. “There is also no end to becoming a better you, so attending programs like these and striving to be healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually helps you serve more people.”

John and Jane Colman founded the Colman Family Endowed Fund for Leadership with Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE) to establish the Colman Inclusive Leadership Program for Ph.D. students in engineering and other related STEM fields in spring 2012. In 2015, the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement established a partnership with DPE to make the program open to all Ph.D. and M.F.A. students at Cornell.