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Relearning to be leaders

| Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Last Friday marked the first meeting of the newly elected board of Notre Dame’s own AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) chapter; the first of its kind since the pandemic kicked into overdrive. I sat across from student leaders, officers in our club who had never before attended an AIChE meeting, and came face to face with a largely unseen consequence of last year’s shutdowns: the disruption of leadership continuity. 

When the University closed in the Spring of 2020, it graduated a class of experienced student leaders who had observed the standard operations of their respective clubs. Unfortunately, these seniors took their expertise with them. Next year saw another class of seniors leave with their institutional memory, while our underclassmen learned how to lead through masking, social distancing, and space limitations. Those of us who remain are extraordinarily capable of pulling through extraordinary circumstances. Having witnessed a year or less of standard operations, the ordinary is somewhat out of our wheelhouse. 

The goal of many this year is a sort of “return to normalcy.” That might not mean a one-to-one replication of what came before, but it certainly entails reaching a “steady state” of club operations serving our students and perpetuating itself year on year. In cases such as AIChE, this will need to be built from the ground up. 

When one is evaluating a car, age doesn’t matter so much as mileage. In rebuilding a professional club, our philosophy is that normalcy won’t come from simply waiting — like in any engineering challenge, I see it emerging from iterative failure and dynamic improvement. A cautious approach will only serve to delay our growing pains to the next class of club leaders. A bold approach might spare our successors the disruptions we faced. 

This year I hope to lay the groundwork for years to come, to rediscover what works and what doesn’t. This year, our board requires humility, courage and indefatigable resolve. I anticipate dropped projects, poor communication and weak events. We will not be discouraged, we will not stop, we will not even slow down. This year, our greatest successes will come from our failures. 

For all our new members of AIChE — I ask for your patience as we find our place in this great club’s history. Bear with us in our process of discovery and grow with us as future leaders and board members. 

For all our returning members — I urge you to bring whatever experience you may have to the table and get involved. Take ownership of our future on campus, and mentor our underclassmen to pass on your knowledge for the longevity of the club. 

For all student clubs facing leadership challenges, at Notre Dame or elsewhere, I implore you be bold. As the great philosopher Adam Salvage of Discovery Channel classic “MythBusters” once said, “failure is always an option”. 

And from all of us at AIChE Notre Dame, go boldly and God Bless.  

Jacob Abel

vice president Notre Dame AIChE, junior

Sept. 6

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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