The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Reflections from Rockefeller Leadership Fellow Colin Walmsley ’15, Dartmouth’s Third 2015 Rhodes Scholar

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Recently, 2014-2015 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow Colin Walmsley '15 was named a Rhodes Scholar. The Rhodes Scholarship is considered one of the world's most prestigious academic awards, providing a scholarship to study at Oxford University. The Rockefeller Leadership Fellows (RLF) program strengthens the leadership abilities of seniors through workshops, discussion groups, personal reflection, and team-building exercises.

"Fortunately, my experience as a Rockefeller Leadership Fellow helped me overcome my discomfort, articulate my life goals, and clearly communicate how I want to change the world." -Colin Walmsley '15

Colin Walmsley '15 with classmate Hugh Danilack '15 during an RLF session. Photo by May Nguyen '18

I’ve never been very comfortable in formal settings. Three transformative years at Dartmouth have been unable to erase my small-town Canadian roots, and the professional world is nearly as daunting to me now as it was when I was a wide-eyed freshman with no idea where life would take me. I’m more at home in a log cabin than in an executive boardroom, more comfortable in jeans and a sturdy flannel than in a sleek new business suit, and happier spending an afternoon trudging through the woods than wining and dining with society’s elites. But worst of all, I bumble when I speak. The ideas in my head never quite seem to make it out of my mouth fully intact. No matter how clearly my thoughts form in my mind, they tend to come tumbling out of my mouth moments later in a muddle of “filler” words and disorderly opinions. While this is of little consequence in everyday conversation with my friends, it became more concerning when the possibility of winning a scholarship to pursue my dream of studying at the University of Oxford came to rest on my ability to clearly and concisely articulate how I was going to make the world a better place.

So you can imagine my apprehension last Friday as I approached the Grand Ballroom of Calgary’s luxurious Fairmont Palliser Hotel for the Prairie region’s Rhodes Scholarship wine and cheese reception. In only a few minutes I would meet the nine other finalists competing in the district, along with the seven distinguished committee members who would ultimately decide who received the awards. After socializing with the other finalists and committee members during the two-hour reception, we would stay the night in the hotel before the notoriously challenging panel interview the next day.

I decided to apply to the Rocky Leadership Fellows (RLF) program last spring at the urging of several of last years’ Fellows. While I always knew the program would help me develop my leadership and management skills, at the time I couldn’t have guessed how vital it would be to me as I developed my post-graduation goals. Through the program’s Personal Leadership Development Plan, I was able to identify the values that drive my actions and develop a clear narrative of what I want to do in life and how I want to get there. I realized that I deeply value the idea of cross-cultural collaboration, and this became a theme that linked my ideals and objectives in life.

RLF also helped me to focus on my strengths, identify my weaknesses, and refine my presentation skills. Through constant self-critical evaluation and candid peer feedback from the other incredible Fellows, I realized that didn’t have to completely change my character to clearly express my ideas. Rather, by embracing my strengths and identifying my weaknesses, I was able to hone my bumbling personality into a self-assured yet down-to-earth disposition that helped me to confidently convey my thoughts and opinions while maintaining my authenticity.

As I approached the intricate glass doors of the ballroom my heart began to race. Was I ready? Would I crumble under the pressure? Would I be able to articulate my passions and goals to the selection committee? Feeling conspicuously out of place amongst the elaborate decorations and distinguished committee members, I shakily accepted a nametag and glass of wine from the regional secretary and ventured into the room.

It turned out I needn’t have worried. The skills and insights I had gained from RLF transferred seamlessly to the Rhodes reception and interview. RLF helped me clarify what I want to do in the world, and this clarity gave me the self-assurance to passionately articulate my narrative to the selection committee. When the committee put me on the spot, I was prepared to think on my feet and formulate intelligent answers, and when they challenged my beliefs, I felt equipped to disagree “elegantly”, a skill emphasized by Deputy Director of the Rockefeller Center Sadhana Hall. Without the reflexive experience of RLF, I don’t think I would have had the clarity or confidence to defend my interests and values during the thorough interrogation by the selection committee.

RLF helps student leaders refine their life goals, and then provides the tools to help them reach those goals. It provides a space on campus for leaders to learn and grow, and challenges them to apply this knowledge to improve the world outside of their “Dartmouth bubble”. But most of all, as Sadhana Hall says, the program is about the dual importance of “doing the right thing, and doing things right.” Both are necessary if one wants to succeed in life.

-Written by Rockefeller Leadership Fellow, Colin Walmsley ’15. Walmsley comes from Fort Macleod, Canada and is a double major in anthropology and government. He plays rugby as a center on Dartmouth's first XV team, sings with the Dartmouth Brovertones, and hosts a weekly radio show on 99 Rock, Dartmouth's commercial radio station.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences