Leading by example

UND Honors students get first-hand lesson in leadership from some of the area’s best

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown takes time Wednesday afternoon to meet with UND Honors students he has been mentoring on leadership during the semester. Brown is one of 10 mentors, from both on and off campus, who have been counseling Honors students as part of the program’s “Leaders in Action” track. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

What is leadership and who is a leader?

UND students in the new “Leaders in Action” track of the Honors program are getting a first-hand lesson on the craft and an introduction to some of the area’s best.

The Leaders in Action curriculum bolsters the enriching learning opportunities UND affords its bright Honors students alongside engagement in the classroom.

And it zooms in on experiential education and civic service.

These two fundamentals crystallize into the track’s mentorship component, matching students – in groups of up to six – with mentors from UND and the larger Grand Forks community.

Selected for the intricacies of their careers as well as personalities, UND mentors hold a variety of positions on campus – from President Mark Kennedy to Tanya Butler, relations and events coordinator with the College of Art & Sciences. Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and Dr. James Brosseau, who recently retired as director of the Altru Diabetes Center, are two mentors outside of UND.

“Mentors are a hugely important part of success because if they have done a good job and you have been receptive that becomes almost a lifetime relationship,” said David Cason, assistant professor who teaches more than 50 students enrolled in UND’s flagship Honors course this semester.

The idea sprang up in discussions among UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo and Senior Vice Provost Storrs, both of whom serve as mentors, and Honors Interim Director Rebecca Rozelle-Stone.

Storrs said the new track heeded a campus-wide interest in leadership.

“Many UND students are involved and engaged in student or community groups and care about a wide range of issues of importance to them and their generation,” she said. “The ‘Leaders in Action’ track provides them a pathway to leverage and enhance their leadership experiences while improving the world.”

Dr. James Brosseau

Retired Grand Forks Physician James Brosseau (front center) fields a question from UND Senior Vice Provost Debbie Storrs . Brosseau is surrounded by UND Honors students who are part of a “Leaders in Action” track that allows them to engage personally with some of Grand Forks’ most effective leaders on and off campus. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Beyond-classroom bonds

Among the first Honors alumni, Brosseau, as a mentor, hopes to impart the merits of integrity, honesty and empathy to the generation of students who come almost 50 years after him.

“[Mentors] want to help instill values that will make [students] better contributors to society,” he said.

To get it rolling, Brosseau leaned on Humble Leadership, a book that probes novel leadership styles. It is a shared reading for all mentors and mentees – who are to meet at least three times this semester. But the thin text is just a thread to nudge them closer; it’s the initial stitch in the fabric of their bond.

“We are hoping that mentors will do lots of things like talk about their own experiences, get to know the students, help with the retention of these students, kind of become friends with them in a sense that helps them navigate their way into college,” said Cason.

In early September, Storrs invited her six student mentees to an Honors Program Symposium, where they listened to Brosseau deliver a talk on literature and suffering. Later, they dined together.

“They are diverse in their interests and personalities,” said Storrs of her students. “They seemed inquisitive, and used our dinner to learn more about each other as this was the first time they spent any time as a group.”

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown

Mayor Brown says UND students bring an energy, a new perspective and a work ethic that can apply to any challenge or situation that arises. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Most recently, Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown took a break from his hectic schedule to grab coffee with students on Halloween. It was his second time meeting them.

“When I was asked to participate, I was honored to do so and see the opportunity to grow and  to learn,” Mayor Brown said. “When you work with young people, it helps you keep a ‘young’ perspective on life. Also, my life has been filled with people investing in me and having an impact on me. We all have personal responsibility and individual accountability but we depend on those around us to shape the decisions we make and inform the roles we play.

“It’s important for me to reciprocate by being there to help inform and shape opportunities for these students.”

Tom DiLorenzo

Provost Tom DiLorenzo (above) was among the first UND leaders who supported an arrangement that would let UND Honors program students work closely with campus and community leaders. DiLorenzo has served as mentor to his own group of Honors students this semester. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Leaders of tomorrow 

As Honors students interact with mentors, Rozelle-Stone hopes they realize that the nature of leadership is not monolithic. It’s not an exclusive trait of outspoken extroverts, or an ability to singlehandedly impose a vision, she said.

“Rather, true leadership is about developing trust with other people, being able to collaborate well, having openness and being vulnerable,” Rozelle-Stone said. “So we are hoping that this experience and the text that has been chosen will break down and deconstruct some of those, perhaps, negative ideas of leadership as just being about strength and power.”

Arts & Sciences’ Tanya Butler agrees.

For her, leadership happens regularly in disparate settings – at home, at work and in the classroom. She urged her mentees to seize daily opportunities to etch positive marks on others.

This humble philosophy shapes the core of the “Leaders in Action” Honors track.

After all, it is about educating and empowering the thoughtful, sensible and passionate leaders of tomorrow with the help of those who come before them.