After a summer of anticipation and preparation, our fall 2020 cohort is here!
On arrival day we braved a bit of thunder and lightning with high spirits. Students arrived at scheduled intervals, spent time in our “new” academic building just steps from our residence, and set up in rooms newly-spaced to conform with CDC guidelines. Once everyone passed a health screening test, we broke into “pods” of six and began in earnest.
In those six-person pods (dubbed “The Happy Few,” “The Prime Minister’s Questions,” “The Existentialists,” and “The Asymptotes”) students completed ethical thinking diagnostics (we will measure their progress at the end of the term), reviewed the School’s COVID-19 guidelines, and then confronted the first of many leadership challenges they will face this term. That challenge led some groups to the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II and some to the Limestone of Lost Legacies (the latter created by an SEGL graduate to honor teenage victims of gun violence in DC). Both sites offered opportunities for reflection and conversation.
After a dinner of El Salvadoran pupusas from a neighborhood favorite, we held our opening ceremony, which included icebreakers, a review of our “ethics pledge” social contract, and a challenge to make our semester together the best of our lives. Then the students participated in their first dorm meetings and fell fast asleep after what for many was a long day of travel.
In the morning, most students chose to participate in morning exercise: a yoga class across the street in front of the Folger Shakespeare Library or a circuit training course on the Library of Congress lawn (also across the street from our dorms). Then it was time for a faculty-prepared brunch (all students receive individually-packaged meals and snacks), another orientation meeting, and an afternoon of hands-on learning.
That afternoon began with a short trek to the U.S. Capitol grounds (just one block away). In our pods we 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 low ropes course-style activities: the Minefield, the Spaghetti Tower, Crossing the River, and Client/Consultant (each with proper social distancing!). In addition to accelerating our positive group dynamic, these activities are designed to help each student reflect on the ideal leadership and collaboration skills: this provides a starting point from which to grow.
After a short “jigsawed” 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 progress, and the inevitable transition home.)
Susana (our chef) cooked up her first dinner feast (Chicken Shawarma with rice, lentils, beans, and a tomato salad) and then we settled in for our first academic session of the semester.
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–and then we reflected on the aftermath and meaning of those events.
Our conversation afterwards was introspective, collegial, and wide-ranging; every student participated at least once. It was a memorable start for a dedicated group of emerging young leaders.
This coming week we start Critical Thinking Week and welcome our first guest speakers. More on that soon!