The University’s first Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership program kicked off this fall when 25 second-year students were selected to continue their University education in an all-expenses-paid, six-week summer session. Starting in June, the session aims to develop leadership skills and give students an opportunity to tackle individual projects.
The Meriwether Lewis Institute brings together students who serve as leaders on Grounds or demonstrate leadership potential. In the application, consisting of both a written portion and an interview, students were asked to describe a problem they are passionate about changing at the University.
“I chose to apply because I saw this other great opportunity to get more involved in the issues that I’m really passionate about on Grounds and to really get more involved in administration, programs and policies that are being implemented and instituted at the University level,” said third-year College student Kevin Cao, President of the Asian Student Union. “Being a member of the Asian Student Union has given me a passion for advocacy and for … race relations in general, so I really wanted to continue to pursue those interests and passions through the Meriwether Lewis Program.”
In addition to developing their own personal projects designed to tackle issues on Grounds, participants will learn about citizen leadership and develop their leadership skills through the Institute’s training programs.
Third-year student Deanza Cook, who is dual-enrolled in the College and the Batten School, believes the Institute will give her valuable experience and enrich her areas of interest.
“I’ve been wanting to do public sector work,” Cook said. “Right now, I’m pretty interested in law, public policy and public affairs, so learning about how to address issues at the community level or the University level will only [increase] my interest [in] solving policy issues in the future.”
This past academic year, the 25 selected students took a leadership class together during the spring semester. The class taught fundamental leadership skills, which students will build upon throughout the summer.
“I think [the program] will be a really great resource when thinking about a career path and things after college,” Cao said. “For the immediate future, I think this will be a great springboard for exploring different areas of U.Va. and different issues that I may not be as well-versed in and just learning from my other fellows in the program.”
Next fall, each student will choose an advisor to help them with their individual project. Participants will take a final class together in the spring, and during their fourth year, they will work on a capstone project coinciding with the personal project they conducted through the Institute.
For her individual project, third-year Batten student Tori Hanway plans to work on increasing cultural diversity and awareness at the University.
“When I came to U.Va. myself, I felt really uncomfortable because I felt like there was this majority image that was put forth,” Hanway said. “I myself am a part of the majority — I’m a white female who comes from a fairly privileged background and I didn’t even go to a very diverse high school, but I felt like U.Va. wasn’t really capturing all of its potential. I have friends who feel very excluded from how U.Va. presents itself as a school, even though they go to U.Va.”
Hanway said she wants to create a mandatory seminar for first-year students on diversity and awareness. The class could look at the University and its history, the school’s culture, students’ personal cultural diversities and how culture is introduced on Grounds, Hanway said.
“I’m really excited for it, and I know it’s a big change, but I’m excited to see what we can do,” Hanway said. “It’s great for second years, who have two years less, [to be able to] actually create lasting change within their time at U.Va. for the years to come.”