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Belles study leadership, cultural inclusion

Tabitha Ricketts | Friday, April 5, 2013


The Saint Mary’s College Intercultural Leadership (IL) offers students with an interest in social responsibility the opportunity to develop their leadership abilities and learn more about cultural diversity.

The IL Program is a two to three year co-curricular program that combines leadership development with study of diversity and intercultural inclusion.

Intercultural Studies Program Director Mana Derakhshani said the program aims to teach students about leadership and acting for the common good.

 “The main goal of the IL program is to provide … opportunities for students, whether they are involved in formal, traditional leadership roles or not, to recognize their leadership style and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to be an agent of change for the good,” Derakhshani said.

The program requires students to attend monthly meetings as well as a number of retreats, according to the program’s commitment form. 

Senior Ambreen Ahmad said the retreats are important to the leadership development aspect of the program. 

“The retreats are an opportunity to see who you are as a leader, to recognize your values and to know what you stand up for,” Ahmad said. 

Senior Maeya Alexander said, for her, the retreats are the most enjoyable component of the IL program.

“[My favorite part is] going on the retreats,” said Alexander. “Getting to hang out with people who are your peers … really [challenges] the way we collectively live as leaders. It’s really tough, but that’s what makes it fun. You really get to bond with a lot of the girls.”

Participants must also complete 50 hours of community-based learning and nine credit hours in intercultural leadership topics, in addition to leading an inclusive leadership project, in order to complete the IL Program.

Alexander said IL participants are instructed to design their projects so other students can continue their projects after they graduate.

“One of the things that we’re supposed to accomplish by the end is to create a leadership project that can be replicated and continued at Saint Mary’s,” she said. 

Alexander said past leadership projects have ranged from data comparisons of the status of women in South Bend to the nationwide status of women to comprehensive informative booklets and programs designed to prepare students for study abroad.

Derakhshani said the components of the program help students develop six proficiencies: Recognize the leader within, articulate your ethical and spiritual center, engage and value diversity, dialogue on power and privilege, create inclusive and equitable communities and make your difference in the world.

The choice of service placement, individual leadership project and where to study abroad are different ways that students can tailor the program to match their personal interests, Derakhshani said.

She said all of the students benefit from the bonds formed through spending time with like-minded peers.

 “I think different students appreciate different components of the program, but everyone agrees that an unexpected benefit is belonging to a cohort of like-minded individuals,” Derakhshani said. “That bond remains strong throughout their career at Saint Mary’s and hopefully beyond.”

Derakhshani also said the program challenges students to be more effective in a diverse world and stands out on a resume to employers who understand the importance of intercultural awareness.

Ahmad said she has learned a lot about collaboration and being a woman through the IL Program

“One big thing that I’ve taken away is that there is immense value in being a woman, and being collaborative and inclusive,” said Ahmad. “It’s been a really great experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself through it.”

Alexander said she would recommend all interested students apply to the program.

“I would definitely recommend it for anyone, not only to meet people, but to talk about the issues in our world that people don’t always see,” Alexander said. “It’s given me a lot of confidence to do things that I wouldn’t have thought I could do.”

Derakhshani said the program is open to rising sophomore and junior students from any discipline. Derakhshani said the application process opens each spring, and this year applications will be accepted through Monday. She said around 10 new students are accepted into the program each year.