A few months ago, I was invited to come back to my alma mater, Frostburg State University. You might be saying…Frost who? Yes it sounds cold—and yes it holds true to its name. Frostburg State University is a university situated in a small, former coal mining town in the Alleghany Mountains of western Maryland. Over 100 years ago, FSU used to be a teachers college (and a terrific one at that), but eventually diversified into a university. It’s not a huge college by the likes of UCLA, USC, or any of the other big name colleges. As a matter of fact, you probably didn’t know it existed. But that’s what makes it oh-so-special. And as I drove in on Friday morning (fresh from my red-eye flight from LAX), there was snow falling and 32 degree temps to welcome me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
This weekend, they held a conference (called the Sloop Institute for Excellence in Leadership) in which future leaders of FSU participated and learned from alumni about different leadership topics such as teamwork, communications, and building relationships. I was asked to present on “Developing and Empowering Others.”
For the beginning part of the day, the directors had the alumni “host” tables as the students moved about the room every 10 minutes. It was like Leadership Speed Dating. The topic I hosted was about empowerment (did I tell you I felt like a morning talk show host leading the discussion?!?) They gave us a few questions that looked like this….
I asked the kids if they knew what empowerment was. Here’s a few answers I got.
- “Bringing out the potential in others. Helping others find what’s in themselves that they didn’t know existed.” ~Melanie
- “Building others up with positive energy” ~ Emma
- “Lift & motivate. Do something they wouldn’t do.” ~ Magnus
- “Instill change, be positive” ~Madison
- “Give a bigger role within their skill set” ~Ben
- “Facilitate opportunity to better themselves” ~Lucas
- “Giving people the tools they need to succeed” ~Katie
- “As you become successful, you want others to be successful with you” ~Tyler
- “Use weakness as a strength. In order to be empowered, you have to be empowered yourself” ~ Marilyn
We had not officially started the presentation portion of the day, and I was impressed. In my head, I kept thinking “you better bring your A game—they are not messing around.” These students weren’t what I was expecting. They were insightful. They took initiative. They had drive. They had purpose. They had passion. They already exuded professionalism. It was quite extraordinary to hold a mentoring-type conversation with these young minds because they were highly engaged. They wanted to learn from our experiences. What was unique was that there were so many alumni from so many different fields of study. I was the only alumni with an education major, but I found that my experience was just as valuable as anyone else’s.
After the round-table discussions, we were excused to the next building where 5 of us alumni would spend the rest of the day with the students and complete our presentations.
One alumni presented on Communication. What I learned from his presentation was about what the “Sound of Silence” meant.
The Sound of Silence could be…
- sound of someone thinking
- sound of new ideas
- sound of calm determination in face of a challenge
- sound of leadership
- silent opposition
Another colleague presented on the effective teamwork. We discussed the characteristics of effective teams by looking at pictures of fireman, a football team, and “Modern Family.”
And then eventually it was my turn. Last presentation of the day. The students have been sitting there patiently all day looking forward to dinner. Their heads were saturated with leadership jargon. Because of those circumstances, I was really nervous.
And even though the teacher part of me was screaming to come out, I held back. Instead, I became a story teller in hopes of inspiring them. I started the conversation with defining empowerment. We discussed power versus influence. And then I told my story. It’s the story of 2 teachers empowering each other. We laughed. We cried. We wondered. We learned that titles/power don’t matter. They could affect more people with their influence.
And instead of just talking about it, I gave them an assignment to do it. Go empower someone and then tell me about it. Just because I’m headed back to the west coast doesn’t mean that the conversation has to stop. The conversation is just beginning. They were tasked to keep in touch and tell me their stories of empowerment.
Luckily, the FSU students were with me the entire way. I had one student stop me afterward. This student had tears in his eyes and thanked me. He said that our story reminded him of his mother. His mother was a teacher of over 20 years and she’s trying to challenge herself too. All I could do was give him a ginormous hug and thank him for sharing. It was a heart-felt moment. Another student ran up telling me that she realized that empowerment was “good karma”. Yes! Spot on. High Five!! The students were buzzing afterwards. They looked like they were ready to conquer the world. It made me feel proud to be a part of their education.
Now I await to see if the students do their “homework.” I’m anxious to see/hear how they take the topic they heard about and put it into action. I’m curious how far my story or my messages will go. I wonder what will happen next.
Until next time,