Working on the Leader in the Mirror

Katie Cano ’16, Political Science, is the 2014-2015 student Commissioner on the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Katie Cano

One of my earliest memories features a four-year-old me, dejected and bitter, sitting in my kindergarten class thinking that I would be a better Class President than the boy chosen by the classmates with whom I spent six hours a day. Even then I felt like I needed to prove to people that I could be someone.

As time passed, others saw that I had potential; I earned leadership roles in various organizations in my high school. I felt like the support I had earned from other people was something I deserved, because I knew that I could produce results, which I equated to leadership.

However, as I attempted bigger and bigger projects, I lost more and more friends. My peers didn’t like me. Sure, teachers praised me, and my parent’s friends thought that I was the vision of a perfect child, but my fellow students were the ones who could have helped me accomplish my goals, and most of them wanted nothing to do with me.

By the end of my senior year, I had raised thousands of dollars, was the leader of various local and even statewide organizations, and had won college scholarships and contributed hundreds of volunteer hours. And I had no friends. Despite all the plaques and awards I had acquired, I was a miserable person.

Throughout high school, I attributed my misery to other people’s small-mindedness. It’s just lonely on the top, I told myself.

Finally—after a very lonely friendless summer before starting college—I  realized that everyone had a problem with me, because I was the problem! I was bossy, I micromanaged, I was cold with people, and I had no sympathy for everyone who had to deal with my terrible leadership. I was an ugly manager. I was the complete opposite of a good leader. I decided that when I got to UMBC, I would do things differently.

During my freshman year of college, I forced myself to listen more and observe the leadership styles of my classmates. I saw that people had teams, and coalitions. It wasn’t one shining star fixing the world. It became very clear to me that it wasn’t worth being a big shot if other people weren’t growing with me. I became determined to stop inadvertently hurting and disrespecting the people who were trying to work with and support me. I wanted to help others accomplish their goals, celebrate my peers’ accomplishments, be a part of a collective, and create a sky full of stars. I wanted to be much more humble.

I still struggle with being a micromanager, taking on too much, and expecting too much of people. Recognizing those obnoxious traits in myself has brought me down to Earth, and deflated my enormous ego. Those natural inclinations force me to constantly work on myself, and that’s okay.

I’m taking on a completely new leadership role this year: the student commissioner of the Maryland Higher Education Commission. I’ll be representing all higher education students in Maryland. That responsibility is pretty overwhelming. I’m going to remember my past leadership roles though. I’m going to remember what worked and what failed. I’m going to remind myself to listen more than I rant. I’m going to be humble and recognize that there is so much for me to learn from others. I’m going to be the best leader that I can and try to help as many people as I can. I’ll never be a perfect leader, but I’ll always be ready and willing to grow.

Contact the author, Katie Cano, at

Global Leadership Starts Here

Romy Hübler (Language, Literacy & Culture), Doaa Rashed (Language, Literacy & Culture) and Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez (Biological Sciences) are UMBC doctoral students. All hold, or have held, leadership positions in UMBC’s Graduate Student Association.

Earlier this year UMBC joined the Public Sector University Consortium of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by the U.S. Department of State and the Seven Sisters Colleges and now housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  The Women in Public Service Project empowers, connects and mobilizes the next generation of women around the world to address critical public issues.

Romy HublerRomy describes UMBC’s involvement with the Women in Public Service Project:

UMBC has taken an active role in the WPSP by showcasing and providing developmental opportunities for graduate students. At the WPSP conference on “Conflict Transformation Through Economic Development and Innovation” at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell this summer, Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez and Erika Nesvold (Physics) gave short TED-style research presentations as part of theSharing STEM session. Doaa Rashed and I served as facilitators for the session on The Material Basis of Violence Against Women and Engaging Men in Promoting Change.The conference included women leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Liberia, and Turkey.

WPSP UN PanelLast month, WPSP presented “A Global Conversation: Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership” at Barnard College in New York City. Three of us (Doaa, Nandadevi and I) made the trip, sponsored by the UMBC Graduate School’s Graduate Student Development Unit. The panel featured Dr. Debora Spar, President of Barnard College; Jane Harman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Wafa Taher Bugaighis, Deputy Foreign Minister, Libya; Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, UN; Melanee Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women; and Kimberly Marten, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College.

Doaa RashedDoaa reflects:

The panelists discussed diverse contexts in which global women leaders have assessed societal needs and provided long-term sustainable solutions to local problems. Their examples illustrated that women are not only capable of making important contributions, but that they have  already been practicing leadership across the globe. The question that arose is: “what is next?” The panel addressed this question by calling all women leaders to promote and support emerging leaders as they find their paths into public service, which will create the space for empowerment. As President of UMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) , I have a great opportunity to interact with graduate students and help address their concerns about leadership skills, a topic often overlooked in the curriculum. As a response to such need, the GSA started a new Graduate Student Leadership Committee (GSLC) where graduate student leaders work together to identify their leadership needs and develop training workshops and seminars to address those needs. Another goal of this committee is to put committee members in leadership positions as they support fellow graduate students. For me, working with the GSA Executive Board and the Office of Graduate Student Life (OGSL) has helped me see team leadership in action where leaders work together to build a strong graduate student community. Leadership is ours if we choose it and it is through self-efficacy and strong belief in our strength that we can reach this goal.

Maria Nandadevi Cortes RodriguezNandadevi reflects:

Listening to the panelists, I realized that women leaders have many good intentions to end some of our contemporary social challenges, such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, discrimination, violence and a lack of access to resources including health, shelter, sanitation or water. Unfortunately, they often encounter difficulties when they attempt to change the mentalities of more traditional leaders. In order to achieve prosperity, it is essential that men and women work together and treat every human being with the same rights. Reaching powerful leadership roles has not been easy. I admire all those brave women before me who stood up for their ideals and who fought to vote, study, or even access health care. As a biologist, my research focuses on the genetics of birds and how these genetic changes are related to past and present climatic events; eventually, these results can be used in areas such as conservation and healthy wildlife populations. As a member of PROMISE AGEP, I have been involved in different workshops and panels that promote student success and leadership not only at UMBC, but recently in Puerto Rico, with the Writing for Publication workshop. Finally, as a teacher I have interacted with girls of different cultures and environments and I always like to emphasize that as women we are the foundation of society and that a society will evolve only if we have integrity and values to overcome difficulties.

Romy reflects:

Listening to the global women leaders at the WPSP UN panel was truly inspirational. Their stories illustrated the successful entry of women into powerful leadership positions on a global scale. At the same time, we can hardly speak of equal representation. In the United States, women occupy 98 of 535 seats in Congress, 20 of 100 in the Senate, and 78 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Considering Melanee Verveer’s remarks that “no country can get ahead with half of its people behind,” I wonder how the United States can continue to make valuable democratic contributions when not even twenty percent of its government consists of women? As an organizer, I know that change is a slow and at times painful process. To stay committed, we need to celebrate successes, reflect on challenges, and continuously remind ourselves that equal participation is necessary to understand, discuss, and work toward posing and solving societal and global issues from a variety of perspectives.

UMBC WPSP Participants

 Contact the authors: Romy Hübler at, Doaa Rashed at, and Maria Nadadevi Cortes Rodriguez at

Transforming the Here and Now

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

[Cross-posted on Co-Create UMBC].

David Hoffman

STRiVE 2013, UMBC’s fifth annual homegrown student leadership retreat, sponsored by the Office of Student Life and Student Government Association, took place last week at the Skycroft Conference Center. I served as one of 12 coaches (6 staff members, 6 students). Each STRiVE is different (I’ve participated in all five), but they are always life-altering. [My reflections on previous STRiVE retreats: 2012201120102009].

B-1The phrase “leadership retreat” really doesn’t do STRiVE justice. It obscures the poetry and magic of the lived experience. What happened in the hills west of Frederick last week was mostly spontaneous, profoundly real and deeply poignant. 62 UMBC students and staff members, most of us strangers to each other when the week began, helped each other to discover that despite our fears and vulnerabilities, and partly because of them, we are strong, wise and perfectly capable of transforming our lives and world together. We know this now without a doubt, because by week’s end the transformations already had begun.

C-14STRiVE’s intellectual foundations include the “social change model” of leadership developed by higher education scholars, student development theory, social cognitive theory, and Harry Boyte’s pioneering ideas about preparing people for active roles in democracy. Based on our synthesis of these ideas, one of the core principles of STRiVE’s design is that we coaches empower the participants as co-creators of all their experiences, including the retreat itself while it is happening. To do otherwise would risk stunting their growth by equipping them to thrive only in leadership simulations, when authority figures are available to give instructions and assign roles. [Read more…]

Leadership Education, Co-Created

Virginia Byrne is Coordinator for Leadership Development and Education in UMBC’s Office of Student Life

This summer I moved to Maryland to join the Office of Student Life staff, and I couldn’t be happier. In my role, I facilitate the creation of experiential and reflective leadership learning opportunities for UMBC students. Partnering with students to create these programs is essential. While I could prepare leadership development activities on my own, students are the best sources of expertise about their own experiences. And learning from experience–making leadership real by locating it in students’ lives on campus and beyond–is crucial if students are going to solve real problems and contribute their communities in ways that make a difference.

LeadingOrgs, November 2012

One of the programs I co-create with students just happened: LeadingOrgs is a weekend retreat for 30 student organization officers that took place this past weekend. You can see more of our fun photos here.

What may be UMBC’s best-known and most popular leadership program created collaboratively by students and staff is STRiVE, for which the application deadline is less than two days away (Thursday, 11/5 at 5:00 p.m.; apply here). Held each January during winter break, STRiVE is a five day, intensive and engaging off-campus leadership retreat for about 50 students. Participants experience thought-provoking hands-on learning activities, facilitated by a team of student and staff coaches. The coaching team spends the four months prior to STRiVE reflecting on previous retreats and tweaking the curriculum to provide a unique experience each year. I think the best way for students to understand why they should apply to STRiVE is to hear it from the coaches themselves:

Contact the author, Virginia Byrne, at