Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, September 28, 2009

Alumni advise student leaders on how to be effective leaders

Student leaders from organizations across campus came together Sunday at the Campus Leadership Colloquium to hear U-M alumni advise them on how to be effective political and business leaders.

The speakers included White House staff aides, business CEOs and the president of the university’s Alumni Association. They shared their histories and what it took for them to get where they are today.

The students at the colloquium, which took place at the U-M Museum of Art, seemed eager to learn from the speakers’ experiences and to apply the advice toward bettering their campus organizations, as well as taking away important lessons to be used in future business or political ventures.

Nick Colvin, a U-M alumnus and staff assistant in the White House Counsel’s office, remembered that he “attended a one-room schoolhouse” in a blue-collar Michigan town before coming to the university. While studying at U-M, he became passionate about politics, so after graduating he went to work as a special assistant for then-Sen. Barack Obama.

“There is something very unique about this campus,” Colvin told the audience. “There are so many students engaged and involved. You don’t see that at every university.”

“A lot of students are excited to hear from Zingerman’s (co-managing partner Grace Singleton),” said Shari Brown, a senior in LSA and Dance Marathon representative. “Their business is amazing — how they’ve expanded horizontally and created a different business model. People see them as a top-notch organization.”

The most applause, however, came when Jan Svejnar, a former presidential candidate in the Czech Republic, took to the podium. Svejnar is director of the International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy and a professor of economics, public policy and business administration. He discussed how leadership is a gift, but it must be perfected in order to be useful.

“Make sure you have clear and defined goals in mind,” he advised. “Develop a vision and, from that, develop a strategy.”

Svejnar shared that he ran in the Czech presidential election because he saw corruption in the government and knew something needed to be done to stop it. He told students that if they see a problem and want to change it, they must be prepared to “take calculated risks. To be a leader and to accomplish anything, you must take risks.”

“Seize opportunities,” Svejnar told the students. “And seize them wisely.”

After small-group discussions and a question-and-answer forum, most of the student leaders in attendance seemed satisfied with the advice they got and thought the event was a success.

“The point of it is to establish ties between campus leaders,” Brown said. “It gives us resources to better our campus group.”