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IAP class offers help to campus leaders

When Jordan Fabyanske was elected vice president of the InterFraternity Council in late 2004, he found he had a lot to learn. "There was a lot I wished I'd known before coming into office," he said.

He ended up filling a journal with the "practical lessons" he gained as vice president, and it grew to be 100 pages long. Eventually, he started to think about ways he -- and others like him -- might use those lessons.

After meeting with MIT Leadership Center Director Mary Schaefer and Associate Director Jonathan Lehrich, Fabyanske, now a senior, launched a pilot Independent Activities Period (IAP) course, "Leading and Changing Campus Organizations," which was held for the first time this year.

The goal of the three-week course, sponsored by the MIT Leadership Center, was to teach students the practical skills they need to lead organizations effectively.

"There are many leadership learning opportunities," said Lehrich. "But one thing people were really looking for was an opportunity to apply classroom lessons to their current life."

Offered in six 90-minute sessions, the class drew roughly 25 student leaders from several graduate and undergraduate organizations. The classes focused on the skills that make an individual a leader, as well as ways to recruit and engage future leaders. They talked about marketing ideas and how to mobilize group members to take a personal interest in the organization.

The final class discussed how to make a leadership transition -- bringing new leaders onboard while maintaining the integrity of the organization.

During the final class, Chris Rezek (S.B. 1999), former board member of the Institute Foundation/Student Resource Service, spoke about why that group folded in 2001. Joost Bonsen (S.B. 1992 and S.M. 2001), a former leader of the 50K competition, talked about why the 50K continues to thrive.

Bonsen encouraged the students gathered in E51-335 to "keep the big picture in mind," when transitioning out of an organization. "Take pleasure and joy in other people's success," he said.

For students, whose lives are in flux and who typically only spend four years as undergraduates at MIT, the transitions are key to maintaining an organization, said Fabyanske. "One of the main goals [of the IAP course] was to offer something practical," he said.

The class was considered a great success and may be offered next year for credit, said Lehrich.

"My hope is that you will empower your emerging leaders," Fabyanske told the students in the class as they left. "I hope you will encourage people to take courses like this in the future."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 8, 2006 (download PDF).

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