LEADing Virtually

LEADing Virtually

If someone asked me to define my best experience at Booth, in a heartbeat, my answer would be Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD). Like many others, I came to Booth with the intention to build long-lasting relationships. Being a LEAD Facilitator helped me achieve that goal, even despite the switch to a virtual model because of the pandemic.

Turning back the clock to one year earlier, my LEAD experience was fantastic. I remember having a lot of fun with friends in the C08 classroom, building the tallest tower from A0 papers, playing card games with ridiculous rules, etc. The highlight was the LOR (Leadership Orientation Retreat) trip to Lake Geneva, when we escaped the Chicago Loop bubble, explored another state, and got to know people better outside of classrooms. I applied to be a LEAD facil with the expectation of strengthening this awesome experience for the incoming first years (1Ys).

However, it was not as smooth of an experience as I had originally anticipated. In the Spring Quarter of 2020, when we were starting to build the content for the next year’s LEAD, COVID-19 hit. Together with the other 39 facils, I was holding my breath every day in anticipation of the decision from the University on what the Autumn Quarter would look like. We tried to be optimistic and built two sets of content, i.e. one for in-person sessions and the other for the virtual version.

At the end of May, the situation became even more intense as racial tensions rose following the murder of George Floyd and numerous incidents across the US. There were heated debates on Slack and many people blamed Booth and LEAD for not doing a good job in educating students about power, privilege, and social injustice. As LEAD facils, we knew it was important to rise to the occasion and determine some of the ways we could help the institution address these concerns.  The result of many discussions with the administration, resulted in us to incorporating new content about diversity and inclusion into the LEAD curriculum.

Fast forward to August when 40 of us were back on Zoom again to continue working on LEAD. Since many 1Ys would not have the same opportunities as in previous years to connect with one another in person, it was even more important for LEAD to build a sense of community among 1Ys and 2Ys. Here are some of the elements that make LEAD a special experience whether virtual or in person.  

We create a safe space for 1Ys to express their feelings. Entering a new experience means managing different types of conversations and relationships. As a Facil, it’s important to help navigate the many diverse feelings and opinions. In a year like 2020, there always seemed to be a new area of breaking news, and I found that I, as well as my fellow facils were navigating conversations in real time. For example, after the charging decision about the Breonna Taylor case was released on Sep. 23, I decided to spend more time with my squads to listen to their feelings and emotions.

We leverage the format available to us. This year that happened to be a heavy emphasis on  technology to enhance interactions with 1Ys. Various Zoom and Slido functions (chat, breakout room, poll, annotation, quiz, etc.) were used extensively for people to participate in the class. Adapting to the times was a steep learning curve, but we were committed to learning new technology to keep the experience interactive, engaging, and seamless.

We have fun! While the topics can be robust and there’s a lot to learn, it was really important that we created an enjoyable experience. Some of the ways we did this was by encouraging 1Ys to flex in their cohort-color shirts, to share their favorite pies for PAI class (Perceptions, Awareness & Insights), or to play Bingo Cards to get to know people in the cohort better.

After the last class of LEAD, I had mixed feelings. Part of me was relieved since I get 10+ hours back every week, but another part of me was feeling nostalgic as I know I will miss seeing over 140 1Ys every Tuesday and Thursday morning. As the newest members of the Booth community, I hope to continue engaging with them in my last two quarters, and even after graduation! Not to mention the bonds formed with my fellow LEAD Facils. Although this experience was not exactly what we originally signed up for, I am glad that we grinded through all the challenges together. I learned so much from this experience and I’m thankful to all the fellow lead facils and 1Ys who made this experience a really memorable one!