Recruiters would have grappled over the opportunity to be in Eliot House last Friday night, where nearly 200 campus leaders gathered to network at the first ever President’s Forum hosted by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College.
Although similar events have been held on smaller scales in the past, Friday’s forum was the first to invite all student group, athletic team, and social club leaders according to event Co-Chair Jessica R. Zofnass ’08.
"I believe this is the largest gathering of student leaders in Harvard history," said Jon P. Doochin ’04-’05, a founder of the Leadership Institute.
Event co-chair Angela K. Antony ’08 said the event provided an opportunity for student leaders to form relationships that they can use to facilitate communication and collaborative efforts.
IBM Professor of Business and Government and Dunster House Master Roger B. Porter issued the evening’s keynote address, blending explicit advice about "being tough" with scattered anecdotes about his experiences working in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Porter, who teaches the popular course Government 1540: "The American Presidency" reflected during his talk, on the time when former President George H. W. Bush generously shared his swanky summer wardrobe after Porter had come to a meeting at his home noticeably overdressed.
"The great leaders think not first and foremost about themselves, but they think about, care about, are concerned about, and take actions to help those that work with them," Porter said.
Charles W. Altchek ’07, captain of the varsity soccer team, said he gleaned important advice from Porter’s speech about team-building and that the campus could benefit from more events that bring together student and faculty leaders.
"[The President’s Forum] is something that’s overdue. Tonight proved that the students are the ones that care and the College should support their efforts," Altchek said.
A previous incarnation of the forum happened last semester, involving 40 students leaders and serving as a pilot for this spring’s larger event, Antony said.
But some questioned whether the forum was the most efficient way to build leadership skills for all groups.
David Mou ’08 said that particular types of groups, such as arts organizations, awareness clubs, and publication groups, would have found the event more useful than those groups "who didn’t need much networking to begin with."
The Leadership Institute is funded by McKinsey and Co. and the institute’s alums. Institutional support was provided by the Harvard College Dean’s Office, Harvard Business School, and the Kennedy School of Government, Doochin said. McKinsey also sent their innovation expert, Abigail Levy, to give the evening’s inaugural address.
During the catered dinner, attendees were encouraged to break the ice by answering questions about their leadership experiences randomly generated by tossing around a "discussion cube" with a different question etched onto each face.
Jason B. Munster ’07 said that the cube encouraged conversation at his dinner table, spurring a discussion about Martin Luther King Jr., 8th grade sports coaches, and other outstanding leaders in the lives of the students.
Amy M. Zelcer ’07, president of Harvard Students for Israel, said she was surprised that an event of this size aimed at uniting campus leaders and fostering the exchange of strategies had not been previously coordinated.
"This is something the College should’ve done in the past. It is not [the Leadership Institute’s] responsibility," Zelcer said.
Anthony said that board members of the Leadership Institute have received positive feedback and support from the Office of the Dean and that connections with College administrators are important for taking the organization to the next level.
The College also is also launching its own leadership development initiatives, beginning with the new women’s center director’s role to "develop a leadership curriculum for women student leaders in particular, and all student leaders in general," according to the position description.
Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd wrote in an e-mail that the director of the women’s center will collaborate with many of the existing programs, including the Leadership Institute and the Institute of Politics’ Women, Leadership, and Politics group, "that are trying to create a structure that would provide much-needed assistance to all student leaders." The selection process for the director is reaching an end, as only two candidates remain.
—Staff writer Ying Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.