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Honors course prompts students to explore perspectives on leadership

November 12, 2013

Important truths have emerged from the new Honors class “Leading Change.” Rajah Saparapa of Lomé, Togo, realized she has a voice and can use it even now before she earns her degree. Classmate Rachel Guthall of Sparks-Glencoe, Md., found out that introverts can be leaders too.

And Evan Callahan of Boxborough, Mass., discovered new aspects of leadership and ways a leader can help all people maximize their efforts.

It’s exactly what Honors Program director Stephanie Madsen and assistant director Sara Raley hoped for when they designed the two-credit course taken by all Honors students in their first semester on campus. The class exposes students to the challenges of change, prompts them to analyze qualities and practices of effective leaders, connects them with leaders in the community and fosters their own identities as leaders for change.

Guest speaker, President Roger Casey, explored different perspectives on leadership by having the students draw with crayons their image of leadership. McDaniel trustee and alumna Barbara Thomas is scheduled to share her work with Habitat for Humanity in Europe as an example of leading change on a global scale. Other alumni will visit the class to share their stories of making a difference on a local and national scale.

Among the course readings are two books that examine various leadership styles. “KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play” by founder Darell Hammond showed how, in less than 20 years, KaBOOM! has raised more than $200 million, rallied a million volunteers, led the hands-on construction of over 2,000 playgrounds, and inspired a movement for the child’s right to play. In “Quiet” by Susan Cain, the 45 Honors students, in three sections, learned about “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” in the book.

They’ve written personal statements and explored the many resources available to them at McDaniel, such as the Center for Experience and Opportunity (CEO), study abroad programs and scholarships.

“An important goal of the Honors Program is to challenge students to develop their intellectual potential as leaders for change in their local and global communities,” said Madsen, who is also a professor of Psychology at the college.

That message rang loud and clear for Saparapa, who came to the U.S. to college for the purpose of earning a degree so that she can make a difference in her West African homeland.

“I realize now that I don’t have to have degrees to have people listen to me,” says Saparapa. “I can start thinking now about what I can do for my community.”

Already Saparapa has a project in mind, and she has used it in the class assignment to write a proposal for a Griswold Zepp Award, named for two professors who challenged students to stretch and grow and were catalysts for change during their tenures at McDaniel. The award provides support for a project that addresses the needs of local, regional, national or worldwide communities and exemplifies the true spirit of volunteerism and community service.

“Just 50 miles outside of where I live in the capital of Togo, villagers do not have clean drinking water or electricity. The contrast is shocking,” says Saparapa, a sophomore  Economics major who transferred from Howard County (Md.) Community College. “My proposal is to use the award to build a well for people in the village of Badja. Yes, ‘Leading Change’ has changed me.”

Callahan, an Exercise Science and Physical Education major, has submitted his proposal with his friends for funding to start a special needs baseball team in Westminster.

“We plan on starting the league in the spring if we win the proposal and get the funding,” says Callahan, who is a wide receiver on the Green Terror football team. “The class opened me up to an opportunity to start a program that I never knew I would have been able to previously because I didn't think I would be able to pay for it or have a support system to start it by myself.”

The class has been a journey of self-discovery for Rachel Guthall. She has learned that listening is harder than talking – and it is almost impossible to tell your life story in three minutes. And she knows now that both introverts and extroverts can be leaders.

“I definitely see now that everyone has talents that can be used in leadership – you just have to figure out how to maximize your particular talents,” says the first-year student who hasn’t yet decided on a major. “But this is for sure, introvert or extrovert, you can’t be a leader on your own. You have to interact with others.”