A New Way to Think About Leadership

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SOMeCA’s first summit focuses on giving students skills to apply to organizations. Courtesy of Paul Schraub
SOMeCA’s first summit focuses on giving students skills to apply to organizations. Courtesy of Paul Schraub.

Students and staff were looking for a theory to match the work they were already doing in their SOMeCA organizations — student-run organizing in the truest sense, operating under unorthodox methods of leadership.

After looking through dozens of models, the Action Research Group (ARG) found one — the student agency model — that didn’t have to be molded to fit the work SOMeCA organizations, or Student Organization Advising and Resources, Student Media and Cultural Arts and Diversity, were already doing.

“The student agency model best suited SOMeCA because it encompasses a partnership within different people — students, staff and alumni,” said ARG member Ana Manjarrez. “That partnership is equal in the sense that you see these partners in the same light as you see student leaders and staff.”

In preparation for SOMeCA’s first student organization summit on Saturday, the student agency model, an innovative model for student affairs, is at the forefront of the event’s theme — “re-imagining leadership.” Part of SOMeCA’s ideology is that no one is born a leader and anyone can be a leader by developing the right skills.

For the last six years, SOMeCA has held an annual dinner with alumni to celebrate a tradition of leadership development within student organizations at UC Santa Cruz.

This year will still include the alumni dinner, but it will be held after a day of alumni-facilitated workshops and keynotes from alumni and students. Over 200 students and 100 alumni are signed up to attend the dinner.

Manjarrez, who organized with MEChA and Engaging Education (e2) — the student-run outreach and retention center — graduated last quarter but is now working as a SOMeCA staff member. She said “re-imagining leadership” means seeing leadership in a different, more collective light and challenging the notion that only one person can lead a collective.

“You can’t just decide something for a whole organization, you have to run through a group of people at least, not just one person does it,” Manjarrez said.

Similarly, fifth-year and ARG member Brittany Alba said SOMeCA’s model of leadership challenges the stereotype that one person standing at the front of the room giving people tasks makes them a leader.

“Leadership is really putting in the work at making sure your organization is healthy, and the work you do with your folks is healthy,” Alba said. “It’s communicating with all parties to be effective and efficient. Leadership means you’re committed to put in the work that the folks in your organization need.”

The change focusing on the alumni workshops this year aims to give students skills to be effective leaders and collaborators within their organizations. Ranging from “How the Hell Do We Work Together” to “Identifying Poisons” to “The Art of Facilitation,” the interactive workshops will be facilitated by SOMeCA alumni working across the country, in different fields.

SOMeCA Associate Director Karissa Bauer said the workshops have been piloted on a smaller scale for the last two years and the response was so powerful and positive that the student advisory group responded. Four workshops were offered before last year’s dinner and this year, nine workshops are split between morning and afternoon sessions.

“We wanted to do more than help students network over dinner,” Bauer said. “SOMeCA wants to create spaces where students and alumni can share ideas and grow together into an intergenerational community focused on positive change — positive change within ourselves, our communities and the world at large.”

Following the role of partnership that the student agency model highlights, SOMeCA alumni, students and staff have planned the summit together — from creating the agenda, naming the workshops and deciding which alumni would facilitate workshops. The daylong conference, including the workshops and dinner, cost about $17,000 to host.

“SOMeCA has student advisory boards that collaborate to shape our programming,” Bauer said. “It has become clear to the staff and the students that there are aspects of the world today that are challenging, and equipping strong student leaders with the tools to make things better is the best possible goal I can imagine.”