ALLENTOWN, PA-- A trip to Disney should be fun. But for a group of Muhlenberg students in January, the trip also helped explore the many ways that Walt Disney World staff create a culture of leadership.
Over the recent winter break, 16 Muhlenberg students, including Morristown's Claire Fennelly , joined staff from the Division of Student Affairs on a trip to Orlando, Florida, to learn about Disney magic. Their goal was to immerse themselves, as a group, in a week-long educational experience that focused on leadership, teamwork and service.
Leadership development is a priority for Muhlenberg staff. Those who have been College employees for many years have noted the deliberate shift towards clearly-defined learning goals and outcomes-even for what might, on the surface, seem to be purely "fun" events, such as a bingo night or make-your-own-stuffed-animal activity.
The Muhlenberg Disney Leadership Experience included enrollment in several of Disney's educational workshops (sessions included Techniques of Teamwork and a Culture of Excellence) as well as a service commitment (this year's project paired Muhlenberg students with Give Kids the World Village, a central Florida nonprofit that provides free vacations to children experiencing critical illness as well as their families).
Each night as a group, the students discussed their activities and discoveries; that consideration is a key component of Muhlenberg’s approach to integrative learning.
“One of the things we know about leadership is that students develop their skills when they have clear and ongoing opportunities to reflect on what they've done—and to receive feedback from supportive mentors and peers,” says Allison Gulati, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “So we make that intentional reflection an important component of all that we do, from local community engagement to the Disney Leadership Experience.”
Muhlenberg staff recruited students who sought greater leadership roles and training. Applicants were encouraged to reflect on their own experiences at the College, to explore how they'd do things differently. Those selected were required to meet each month leading up to the event to prepare them for the experience and to introduce them to a framework for understanding leadership: the social change model.
The model imagines leadership as purposeful and collaborative, with positive social change as an intended result. Leadership is broadly defined and is not intended to be limited only to official titles or positions within organizations. Students can be a leader when they’re in a board position for a club or student group, but they can also be a leader among peers in social situations, in the classroom and in engagement with communities on and off campus.