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Sophomore peer mentor Brian Chansky leads a Blue Hen Leadership Program presentation on finding success through failure for Red Clay students.
Sophomore peer mentor Brian Chansky leads a Blue Hen Leadership Program presentation on finding success through failure for Red Clay students.

Blue Hen Leadership Program

Photo courtesy of Susan Luchey

BHLP partners with Red Clay School District for the Discovering Voices Leadership Summit

Students and staff from the University of Delaware’s Blue Hen Leadership Program partnered with the Red Clay School District to present the inaugural Discovering Voices Leadership Summit on Nov. 8. Held at the Cab Calloway School for the Arts and Wilmington Charter School, the summit included 300 students selected by the district’s high schools and middle schools. 

Red Clay teacher and UD alumnus Patrick Genau first conceptualized the summit as a way to show his students the importance of leadership. “I wanted our students to see leaders around the same age as them and to have a visual representation of their peers leading and educating,” he said. “I presented the summit as an opportunity to teach important life skills in an engaging way that not only will benefit the individual, but also the school and the community.”

Genau decided the best way to do that was to partner with his alma mater. He sought the help of Susan Luchey, associate director of Student Centers for Student Leadership Development, and Nat Measley, an adjunct faculty member for the Horn Entrepreneurship and founder of Your Culture Story. The trio began planning in May 2021 and worked for the next seven months to develop curriculum and coordinate keynote speakers, sponsors and school administrators. 

“The event was dreamed up and designed to have a positive impact on the young people in our community,” said Measley. “That’s the main reason we wanted to be involved.”

Luchey used her personal connections to secure speakers Bryan Terrell Clark, a Broadway star known for starring as George Washington in “Hamilton,” and Justin Jones-Fosu, an author and leadership educator. “Terrell Clark was a keynote speaker at our 2020 Change Makers Leadership Conference and we have a collaboration through a non-profit he co-founded,” said Luchey. “Jones-Fosu is a former student of mine at the University of Baltimore.”

Terrell Clark shared his experience of overcoming obstacles to become a performer and activist and Jones-Fosu advised students to find their own voice and march to their own beat. Both speakers sent the unified message to students to pursue their passions and stay true to themselves.

In addition to the keynote speakers, eight members of the Blue Hen Leadership Program presented concurrent workshops on two topics: “Leadership, Identity and Values” and “A Problem-Solving Model.” BHLP presenters included seniors Jonte Desire, Cullen Kisner (Honors), Jose Manuel Lanzona, Lindsay Marrione, Shannon Murray and Elizabeth Swanson, as well as sophomore students Samantha Carrella and Brian Chansky (Honors).

“You cannot be truly effective as a leader until you understand yourself and lead yourself in everyday life,” said Marrione. “Therefore, I spent a lot of time prompting students to understand the different parts of their identities, as well as identify the things they value.”

Marrione said she also helped students grasp the concept of S.O.L.V.E., which stands for “Set roles and goals, outline the problem, list strategies, veer toward consensus and evaluate results.” The students were taught this method and formed into teams to complete the challenge of building the tallest freestanding tower of raw spaghetti and tape, topped with a marshmallow.

“Basically, this is a process that people can follow when facing any challenge, specifically in a group setting,” Marrione said. “Using the S.O.L.V.E. process, the students figured out the best way to build their towers while managing everyone’s different ideas.”

The summit also included a “True Colors” personality and leadership assessment led by Luchey, as well as a panel presentation featuring UD alumni and one current student: Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion Gino Gradkowski, social entrepreneur, mentor and Honors graduate April Singleton, founder of WilmInvest Bryce Fender, life coach Steve Bowman and UD senior and entrepreneur Jonte Desire.

Marrione stated the significance of seeing her fellow classmate and BHLP member on the panel. “Many people in this phase of life feel limited in terms of what they are able to do, but Jonte is proof that age doesn’t have to prevent you from achieving a goal,” Marrione said. “It’s a common belief — especially among young people — that leadership has to do with a position or title that is given to someone. That’s not true; anyone can be a leader.”

Genau noted the impact the summit had on his students throughout the district. “The students were engaged and participated openly in discussions, interacting with other leaders from different school buildings that they had never met before,” he said. “Many students are asking how to be nominated next year and saying how exciting it was to have an educational learning experience that was non-traditional.” 

Attendees were encouraged to use what they learned at the conference to create an action plan to make a positive change in their school or community. Measley said he hopes this summit will continue and pave the way for similar programming. 

“A small team of us do have bigger dreams for the summit and leadership education,” he said. “We hope to make the program more robust and better every year. Then, we hope to take it to every other school in Delaware and beyond.”

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