September 12, 2012

‘Eye-Opening’ Cornell Outdoor Education Class Will Train Leaders in Greek System

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As the Greek community continues its efforts to address President David Skorton’s mandate to end “pledging as we know it,” Cornell Outdoor Education is offering a new course this year to train Greek students to be effective leaders.The “Cornell Student Leadership Academy: The Fraternity and Sorority Experience” — also referred to as the Greek Leadership Academy — seeks to train officers of Greek chapters in a variety of skills to “help them make tough decisions,” said Amy Kohut, program head and director of the Cornell Team and Leadership Center. It will also help them “create a positive environment for new members,” said COE Executive Director Todd Miner.According to Miner, although COE has worked with the Greek system in the past, previous programs focused primarily on training new members. The Greek Leadership Academy will instead emphasize educating officers of Greek chapters, he said.“In the past, we’ve worked with new members, but then it was several years before they were their chapters’ leaders, so we lost some of the impact,” Miner said. “This will get the Greek community to where it should be and where it will be.”COE ran a pilot of the course in 2011, which was met with positive feedback from the 28 students from 14 different organizations who participated, Kohut said.Students can earn one physical education credit for participating in the first semester of this year’s course, which will officially launch Oct. 15. During the fall semester of the program, students will attend weekly three-hour meetings in which they will explore topics such as group dynamics, culture and power, according to Kohut. A professional leadership coach will also provide participants with one-on-one coaching, she said.During the second half of the program in the spring, participating officers will be given the option of taking their chapter’s new members to the Hoffman Challenge Course — a Cornell-owned ropes course — for team-building activities.“COE is an outdoor education program, but it’s also very heavy on experiential learning,” Kohut said. “We try to highly impact a couple of people in the hopes that they’ll impact many.”Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D ’94, vice president of student and academic services, said that the University financed last year’s pilot program in full and covered 75 percent of the cost this year. Participating Greek chapters covered the remaining costs of the program.Interfraternity Council President Chris Sanders ’13 said that changes to the Greek system over the last year increased the need for the University to improve education for chapter officers.“The program helps student leaders deal with change to the Greek system. There was need for more robust training,” Sanders said. “This program will arm chapter leaders with more knowledge, and members will get to know each other better. They’ll have a network of people going through the same situation that they know they can rely on.”Greek students leaders involved in the Leadership Academy expressed satisfaction with last year’s pilot, as well as optimism over the course’s ability to educate chapter officers as they enter the new member recruitment period in January.Luke Grosvenor ’14, president of the Sigma Chi fraternity, spoke highly of his experience in the pilot program. He said he has urged other members of his chapter to take the course this year.“I think this program will supplement Greek leaders’ skills, but also will change them entirely,” Grosvenor said. “A lot of Greek leaders start without a lot of experience. I learned a lot of stuff [in the program] I had never thought of before. It was really eye-opening in some ways.”Tom Hirschfeld ’13, a member of the Delta Phi fraternity who was involved in the creation of the new course, said that despite its small size, he believes the program is a step in the right direction toward solving key problems with Greek student leadership.“The big problem with Greek leadership is that it’s focused on execution, not on leadership development,” Hirschfeld said. “Cornell doesn’t do a great job training leaders; it just gives people leadership positions. [Leadership Academy] is a small program in the grand scheme of things, but we’re providing leaders with the tools they need.”

Original Author: Sarah Cutler