At Dartmouth, we often remark that our students are “the leaders of tomorrow.” We make this prediction in part because our students arrive as first-years with a broad range of talents, but we also like to think that their time at Dartmouth helps prepare them for leadership roles in their communities, our nation, and the world once they graduate. How does the Dartmouth experience contribute to the development of our students as leaders?
At the core of everything that Dartmouth does well is the liberal arts education. The ability to lead depends critically on a person's capacity to understand his or her environment, to assess the likely consequences of a menu of options, to choose the most promising of those options, and to work in a thoughtful and independent manner to implement that choice. Each of these capacities is cultivated by a liberal arts education.
But leadership requires more than good judgment and hard work. Although we often picture a leader as a single person at the top of a hierarchy, the building blocks of leadership are teamwork and community. A person becomes a leader only by mobilizing and directing the resources of that team and community toward a common goal. Leadership is an applied skill, and students require opportunities to develop and practice this skill. The Rockefeller Center, like many co-curricular institutions on campus, provides several such opportunities.
Many students first encounter the Rockefeller Center through one of our student organizations, which are occasions for discussion and the exchange of ideas on policy topics. Students who show an aptitude and an interest in these organizations may apply to become organization leaders. After some training in facilitation and management, they go on to lead these discussion groups.
Other students are drawn to the Center to acquire funding for unpaid internships in the government or not-for-profit sectors on a leave term from campus. These internships allow them to work as part of a team on a public policy issue. The Center now further supports student internships by offering a five-day Civic Skills Training session in Washington to prepare them. At Civic Skills Training, students learn practical skills such as communicating with supervisors, writing concisely, and networking. They also gain experience with media relations, fundraising, and public speaking.
As students gain more skills in and out of the classroom, other opportunities at the Center may become interesting. The Center now sponsors a Policy Research Shop, in which a group of students each term work under the supervision of Center staff to prepare research reports and briefs on issues confronting the New Hampshire and Vermont state legislatures. The Research Shop allows students to use their analytical skills directly in support of the public policy process. At the end of their time on campus, a select group of seniors participates in the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows program, which considers leadership from a variety of perspectives based on the students' own experiences.
If we are doing our jobs right, then if our students do become leaders of their generations in the years to come, it will be due in some measure to the skills they acquired and the challenges they have addressed while at Dartmouth and the Rockefeller Center.