A future biomedical engineer and organizer

Claire Rydeen is a sophomore studying biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota.She wrote this guest post about her experience in LeaderShape, a program that helped her name her goal to eliminate neurodegenerative diseases by organizing research groups working on similar projects.

LeaderShape participants. Claire Rydeen is second from the right.

Building. Challenging. Leading. These powerful verbs describe the LeaderShape experience, a six-day leadership-training and character-building program, where 50 future leaders from both the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and the Institute of Technology came together to share a rewarding personal growth experience that opened their minds to the idea of “The Value of One, The Power of All.”

As a sophomore, I was initially interested in the program solely due to my curiosity about the experience. The program description was pretty vague, but wanting to seize what seemed like a great opportunity, I completed the electronic application process and was accepted. Three months later, I was sitting on a bus bound for a YMCA camp in Loretto, Minn. And I didn’t know a soul.

Second semester of freshman year, I participated in a similar leadership program on campus. This program consisted entirely of freshman, and progressed throughout the entire semester. The mentality upon leaving this program was, “I can make a difference at the University.” The mentality upon leaving LeaderShape was, “I can make a difference in the world.”

The first day of LeaderShape was deemed “Building Community.” It was crucial for our active participation in the program that we created a community of trust, an open forum where we were free to state our opinions and free from ridicule or judgment. We were split up into small groups, where we could discuss the ideas of the group slightly more in-depth and on a more personal level. My group, united by the wooden gnome that greeted us at the door of the cabin that was our base, formed a tight bond as we pondered issues brought up in the group and expressed our reactions to some of the character-building activities. People who never met before became fast friends, without the “cliquey” atmosphere. Everyone felt free to sit down next to anyone to take up a conversation or play a board game. Everyone ate together at meals; there were no set tables for certain groups of people.

Along with a variety of team-building activities and group discussions, the goal of the week was surrounded by creating a “vision.” This vision had to be out there, almost out of the realm of possibility, something that could only exist in an ideal world. We began by brain-storming and writing a newspaper article which declared our vision had been achieved. Then we hung these “articles” up for the entire group to read and offer feedback. Throughout the rest of the week, we worked on discussing how we would and could work toward our visions and what obstacles would likely stand in our way. We created action plans and identified smaller “step goals” that would set our vision into action.

My vision was to eliminate all neurodegenerative diseases. I’ve seen the struggle of families who watch their children slowly fade, helpless to do anything except offer prayer and comfort. Since I will likely not discover the solution to eliminating neurodegenerative disease, I realized that my contribution would be to create a collaboration of research groups working on similar projects to work towards a common goal, assuming that many highly-intelligent people combining forces will be more successful than the work of one person alone. I realize that I may never accomplish this vision, nor may I live to see it occur, but it did help me realize how even I could make impossible things possible simply by bringing people together. Organizing a progressive, intellectual body towards solving a problem is most definitely a step in the right direction of solving any problem, especially in the medical field.

Even after the week was over, we as LeaderShapers continue to remain close, and the organization even keeps an online database with contact information of past participants. Their action plans are also stored online and can be accessed by any LeaderShape participant at any time.

It was a unique experience, seeing students from the business school and technical sciences school, often seen as rivals, hanging out together playing card games, broomball, and Monopoly. Some of us engaged in lengthy, intense discussions that went until the late hours of the night, while others took time for personal reflection (and much-needed rest).

I was impressed with the dynamic of the group. It was truly an atmosphere of learning. Everyone there was genuinely interested in anyone’s contribution to the group, which really solidified our group as a whole. A committee was formed to continue what we learned at LeaderShape, about leading with integrity, challenging what is, and bringing vision to reality, back to campus.

They’ve formed a student group, Recognizing Individuals’ Potential as Leaders (RIPL), to share the LeaderShape message and encourage other students to participate in the program. It’s amazing what a week of recognizing potential will do to a group of budding leaders.

I gained a new perspective of myself at this experience. I realized what I could do, and after an incredibly stressful first semester, LeaderShape renewed my desire to look beyond myself to see how I could benefit the world as a whole. I chose biomedical engineering to make a difference, but had been so consumed by grades and test scores that I’d forgotten why I was doing what I was doing. I took the knowledge (and the newfound friends) back to the U prepared to be more involved in my favorite aspects of college, my directorship in the Society of Women Engineers, my participation in an off-campus volleyball league, and most importantly, my friends and family. No matter how busy I was, I recognized that I had to take time for those who had been my biggest fans my whole life. LeaderShape restored my dedication to my values, and I vowed to set and achieve long-term goals for the semester. Although it would still be a main priority, I refused to let school take over my life again. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this program, and I hope that it continues to impact University of Minnesota students for years to come.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs