The School of Commerce built its reputation on innovative business education programming, and with its Leadership Minor, the School extends one facet of its highly sought-after curriculum to students across the University.
Relaunched in spring 2020 after a reevaluation and updating of the interdisciplinary course of study, the minor explores strategies and skills that appeal to students studying Commerce and those who spend the bulk of their time beyond Rouss & Robertson Halls.
To find out just how widely adaptable the revamped version of the program has become, we spoke with three third-years enrolled in the Leadership Minor this fall. They represent the relevancy of the program for students majoring in diverse fields like Media Studies; Economics; and Political Philosophy Policy, and Law, and show how the abilities developed through the coursework can be applied to future graduate studies and employment opportunities.
The three students also represent a rich global diversity as well: Micaela Vilanova (A&S ’22) hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dheeraj Ram (A&S ’22) comes from a rural village in the state of Kerala in south India; and Charlotte Paulussen (A&S ’22) grew up in Amsterdam, Holland, Sydney, Australia, and Northern Virginia.
Although Vilanova already has had some leadership experience, serving as president of UVA’s Latinx Student Alliance and as mentoring participant of the Peer Mentor Program, she was drawn to enroll in the minor, citing it as no less than “a key aspect” of her personal and professional development. She feels that the McIntire-hosted minor provides an opportunity to learn skills that will supplement her major and enhance her skill set.
Vilanova expects to apply the tools she studies to transform the environment and people around her, especially within her various activities on Grounds.
“In my major and in the positions that I occupy within UVA, I am always learning through experience. I have already set in place strategies that I gained through the ‘Leadership across the Disciplines’ introductory class that have helped me become a more conscious and empathetic leader,” she says.
A Positive Impact through Leadership
A resident adviser, student ambassador, and polyglot concentrating in International Economics and double-majoring in Statistics, Ram says he was similarly introduced to the minor last spring through the “Leadership across the Disciplines” course. He notes that though he found all of the class’s topics engaging, it was Professor Jeffrey Lovelace’s experiences and profound depth of knowledge that really piqued his interest; the course prompted him to seek avenues for further developing his critical thinking and presentation skills as he strengthens his leadership skills.
“As a person with an economics background who is passionate about humanitarian affairs, I believe demonstrating my leadership abilities will be crucial to have a positive impact on human society. Above all, I think the Leadership Minor will make me a better professional and a better person,” he explains.
“On a personal level, I have always been taught that the wealth of knowledge is useless unless it is applied in daily life. And while there are many intelligent economists, historians, and statisticians in the world, there is a certain lack of representation of these intellectual minds when it comes to decision making. In other words, to deal with challenging situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need more leaders who can be individually skilled, efficient, and socially productive.”
Communication Is Key
Paulussen, a Meriwether Lewis Institute Fellow, was introduced to the minor through a friend enrolled in the Commerce School who offered rave reviews. She says that while the curriculum and the sense of community the tight-knit School offered drew her to enroll, she was drawn to the program for its potential for bolstering her ability to reach out to people from various backgrounds and in different settings.
“One of my main motivations for taking the minor was to gain more insight into the best way to communicate with individuals in a professional setting as a leader or as a follower,” she says. “Each culture, organization, and individual is accustomed to and receptive to receiving different types of feedback. It is important to understand these variations, as the content of your ideas won’t matter if you are unable to effectively communicate them to your teammates.”
The UVA Honor Committee Chair of Selections also says that as a Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law major hoping to begin a career in public policy, she knows just how crucial effective leadership abilities and communication skills can be.
“Decisions that are made when creating public policy are influenced by a multitude of diverse interests, and successful leadership plays a large role in ensuring these interests are balanced.”
The Leadership Minor also provides students with a unique learning environment composed of a mixed group representing all corners of Grounds and the globe. Part of the selection criteria for students applying to the minor asks about experiences that helped their own growth and how those may contribute to the development of their classmates.
Vilanova believes that the unique perspective she brings from being a Media Studies major will serve as a positive and enlightening attribute for her peers, while her Argentinian background will serve as another differentiator. She also notes that becoming a fellow of the Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership this year has provided her with the skills to grow as a leader within the University by informing her ability to interface with other student leaders around Grounds, as well as UVA faculty and staff members.
Ram says that coming from a rural and his own international background offers another point of view due to his cultural upbringing and holistic development that he traces back to high school—but he believes his activity on Grounds has been the most influential in shaping his experience.
“I attended high school at the Pune, India, location of an 18-school global chain called the United World Colleges. Being around 250 peers and teachers from all over the world truly enriched my learning process. But I think my biggest asset has been my active involvement in UVA,” he says. “This academic year will mark my second year as a resident adviser in a first-year dorm, and it has been a very fruitful experience in terms of professional and personal growth. I am also on the executive board of Bharatiya Council, a group I launched last year with my friends, aiming to showcase and celebrate Indian customs and culture. We welcome Indian international students and make them feel at home, and also to invite anyone who wants to learn about the richness of diversity for which India has always been known.”
Paulussen, who was raised on three continents, says she comes to the program with a multitude of cultural insights and understanding of how each group’s values have shaped the leadership style in those areas. She believes that understanding will be a boon to her fellow students as well as her own future.
“As the world becomes increasingly connected through the use of technology, it is crucial to not only understand the leadership style present where you currently live, but also those present across the world, as a failure to can render any efforts to lead and communicate largely ineffective,” she says. “I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with the rest of the cohort, and hopefully provide insight that will be helpful going forward when interacting with professionals from across the globe.”