The 2020-2021 academic year has been a major shift from normalcy. However, Freshmen LEAD adapted to the circumstances with intentional planning and a quick shift to virtual meetings on MS Teams. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Freshmen LEAD strives to uphold and provide the major values of relational leadership for selected first-year students at UofL. The students in the program are very ambitious individuals and we have tried to help facilitate interactions between them in our virtual meetings. We also gave the LEADers several unique experiences throughout the year to enrich their ideas of leadership.
We changed the program structure to focus the fall semester solely on mentorship. The 24 students in the program were each paired up with a student leader on campus and developed a strong relationship with this person through multiple meetings. Many of the students still keep up with their mentors, even well into the spring semester. We also brought in a diversity speaker to talk about privilege and difficult dialogue, which the students really appreciated.
In the spring semester, the LEADers planned out service events that they would theoretically create. The students split into 8 focus groups that corresponded to ELSB committees and programs. Through this process, the students were able to create more personal connections with their fellow group members and learn about proper event planning. We also had some fantastic speakers come in, such as former Representative Charles Booker who discussed growing up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood in Louisville and how he got involved in politics.
Overall, this has been a semester of immense change and growth. While it has been different, we persevered and are very proud of the efforts our students have made. We hope they will continue making change on and off campus with everything they do!
Aditya Mehta is the Freshmen LEAD Service Director.
When I got into this job in March of 2018, I had so many great expectations for the program. In order to obtain the most diverse class of students I talked to staff in the Cultural Center, Women’s Center, LGBTQ+ Center, etc., on top of attending every orientation session for their RSO fair. I pushed and I pushed Freshmen LEAD (and TFF to a smaller degree), but I never expected to have as a great of a class as we did. From the glowing personalities, the hilarious sing-alongs, and my numerous Dad moments, this year’s class has drastically changed my life.
From initial interviews these LEADers showed confidence in their abilities and a true passion to educate and serve. When I met with the 11 ESP (Empower & Serve Program) groups throughout the year the groups displayed tremendous passion for their topics. Our Mental Health group threw two days’ worth of events talking about self-care. The Environment/Sustainability group put on an E-waste drive. The Human Prosperity team had a speaker come to talk about the false stigma that has been placed on Appalachia. Other ideas consisted of a self-defense course, pet ownership fair, and a slew of other fantastic ideas.
This year I’m proud to say that the Freshmen LEAD Class of ’19 consist of the future of this University and society. These 45 students all come from vastly different backgrounds but are tied together by their love for public service. It pains myself, Alex, and Wyatt to see the year come to an end, but the bonds we built transcends any academic calendar.
I’m sure that most of my former peers and current leaders are not surprised that it was my responsibility to write this blog post and yet I forgot until the day it was due. However, do not expect that to be a reflection on my attitudes toward this program because I have never been more excited to be a part of Freshmen Lead than now in the capacity I am.
So far this semester I have had the absolute pleasure of watching many of this year’s Freshmen Leaders begin their journey of growth and self-discovery at this University in the absolute best of ways. With many of the Freshmen applying for amazing positions on campus like SOS, or absolutely crushing their classes and requirements for Lead I could not possibly be prouder.
Up to this point the majority of their Lead experience in meeting has been dedicated to their service projects, which don’t get me wrong I love (shout out Brandon), but this weekend I will get to lead meeting and dive into the aspect of this program that I love the most. I will be facilitating a discussion amongst the leaders as to the importance of ethical practices and intentions when it comes to practicing leadership, hopefully it will be a passionate and lively debate, but I feel confident that they will be reaching a healthy consensus as to the importance of not just doing something but of doing good.
I can see so much potential for good in all of the students I am lucky enough to work with and I am beyond grateful for the small part I get to play in the cultivation of that.
This past weekend we took the most amazing group of first year students to Cedarmore Crossings in Bagdad, Kentucky. Let me back track for a second... the very first time I went to Cedarmore, I was a freshman myself as a LEADer, and now, two years later, I had the opportunity to return to Cedarmore as a director. Two years ago, I looked up to my LEAD directors and knew eventually I wanted to be that director for someone else. My student involvement experience started with Freshman LEAD and has only grown because of it!
Enough about me, let’s talk about retreat!! For the first time this year all of the students really got to know each other and bond over s’mores, Uno, games, and arts and crafts! Many students’ (including myself) competitive sides came out during the song game!
I hope Freshman Lead gives to my students what it gave to me two years ago!
LEAD was by far the highlight of my freshmen year. It's how I made friends and made connections. If it wasn't for LEAD, I'm not sure I'd be in the same position I am today!
I honestly can't say enough great things about LEAD. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I encourage everyone to go out and apply for it!
My favorite Freshmen LEAD trip is when we went to Churchill Downs for a service trip.
We took a bus trip to Churchill Downs and worked with children from disenfranchised communities, mostly immigrant children, for service for the day. I loved it because there aren’t many times when all of the LEAD gets together - people have to miss meetings or events sometimes - so, it was nice to see everyone together.
There was a lot of bonding that happened that day too. It was early in the year, so everyone was still getting to know each other. For example, one of the kids schooled a LEADer in Jenga. For some reason, we all bonded over that. We made pancakes together, and I had time to talk to LEADers who I had never really connected with before.
I got to see some of the LEADers shine in ways I knew they were capable of. I saw it on their application, but it was totally different to see it in action. We were in awe. There was a piano there, and some of them were so talented as they were playing on it and singing to the kids. I got to watch one speak fluent Spanish to one of the children.
Overall, it was a great way to actually serve and see the community. Even on the bus ride there, I think some of the LEADers eyes were opened as to the need for service all around us. That’s what made it my favorite.
Freshmen LEAD embodies service and leadership to engage incoming first year students with the campus and Louisville community.
Programming: Heba Qaissi
Service: Yelena Bagdasaryan