Our second decade is off to a promising start, with a fantastic group of students leading the way!
Our 11th year started with move-in on Saturday morning: the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful and our residence debuted its new Michael Michelson Commons and a renovated third floor quad in Stern dormitory.
That afternoon in our Academic building, our students heard a welcome from SEGL board Chair Paige Cottingham-Streater and then met their first leadership challenge of the semester: to decide as a group between three separate DC expeditions without any guidance from our faculty. The choice was the Torch mural on U Street (the traditional center of African American life in the District). The mural is on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl, perhaps DC’s most famous restaurant, and the students earned an unexpected reward for their cross-town hike: a tour of the mural from Vida Ali, the restaurant’s manager and part of its founding family.
On the way back they made a quick trip for missing essentials, then returned for our first dinner of the semester (Salvadoran pupusas of all sorts!) and our opening caucus–a chance to break the interpersonal ice and review guidelines that will help each student maximize the semester’s potential. Then it was back to our new home, in the shadow of the Capitol, for dorm meeting and the first night of sleep in a new home.
(Our residence recently completed the first phase of a two-part renovation process. Part two is scheduled for next summer. You can see what the building looked like just a few short weeks ago here. Stay tuned for more updates about the fruits of our two-year Capital Campaign efforts!)
Sunday morning brought brunch, optional religious services, a run on the National Mall, and a return Metro trip to our Dupont Circle Academic Building.
Students first discussed the four keys to success in SEGL’s academic program (speak with a current student to hear more!):
- Being smart doesn’t make you smart. Practice makes you smart.
- The best learning happens in an atmosphere of shared vulnerability. If you are afraid of sounding dumb, you won’t learn.
- Narrow your gap.
- It is no use trying to be clever. We are all clever here. Just try to be kind; a little kind.
We then embarked on a series of SEGL’s classic low ropes course-style activities: trust falls (fully supervised, of course!), the Minefield, the Dream Reach, and the treacherous Spiderweb. In addition to accelerating our positive group dynamic, these activities are designed to help each student reflect on her/his leadership and collaboration skills: to provide a starting point from which to grow.
After a short reflective discussion, the students had their first advisor meetings. (Each student meets with an advisor for one period a week to reflect on social dynamics, academic, and the inevitable transition home.)
After dinner from District Taco (a local DC favorite), it was time to start our first academic session. Like many things in our first few days together, our first academic session is an SEGL tradition. Together we watched live CNN coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks–a difficult thing even for these students, who have no memory of the day–this is the first SEGL year that has included some students born after 9/11–and then we reflected on the aftermath and meaning of those events.
Our conversation afterwards was intense and collegial; every student participated at least once. It was a memorable start for a dedicated group of emerging young leaders.
This week we chase after Skittles and introduce the students to ethical decision making. More on that soon!