An alternative way to spend winter break…

This winter break, instead of immediately running home to hibernate after a roller coaster of an exam week, I decided to go on an alternative break trip. It turned out to be a pretty wise decision, because this trip left me with an experience that I will not soon forget.
The SMU group volunteered with Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the recovery of the residents of Lower Mid-City New Orleans and its surrounding neighborhoods by rebuilding quality affordable housing and by developing the community assets necessary for a vital neighborhood. We were split into groups. My group worked on finishing up sheet rocking a house for a family of four. I figured it would be a lot of hard work, but in reality I did not have a clue about the amount of labor that actually goes into building a home! I left the trip was such a great respect for construction workers, and the many people that volunteer their time in an effort to help others.
We finished building a closet the first day (Yes, it really took us an entire day to build a closet), and at the time, it felt like one of the great accomplishments of my life! By the end of the week we completed a hallway (3 walls) and a living room wall. I think the coolest part was actually getting to see all the work that we did. Often when you are working on an issue it may feel like you are not getting anything accomplished since you are not witnessing an immediate change.
It was amazing to personally observe the impact that Hurricane Katrina had on its victims, rather than just relying on news outlets. It provided the entire group with a new and more human perspective of the situation.
Overall, I absolutely LOVED the trip. I got to help a family, meet some amazing people, and take in the culture of an amazing city like New Orleans. What more could I ask for?

Essete Workneh
Class of 2013
Journalism Major

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Student Leadership

Last night I presented a program at Hawk Hall on Leadership. I posed a variety of broad questions to the small group of participants, such as “are leaders born or made,” and I was pleasantly surprised at where the discussion led. After about an hour of discussion, one of the most interesting questions that a participant posed back to the group was, “do celebrities and public figures have an obligation to act as positive role models just because they are in the spotlight and followed by the general public?” This is something that I have thought about and discussed with others on multiple other occasions, but I think it is worth continuing to contemplate.

At first thought, I suppose that celebrity status does not necessarily make a person a leader; however, an individual must realize that a possible unintended outcome of their fame is that they become role models and set examples for others. Children and teenagers, in specific, come to mind as those who most often look up to celebrities, such as actors, musicians, and athletes. But even I fall victim to living for the latest news from tabloids and paparazzi about Brangelina, Britney, & Sandra. Just because an individual is in a position of status or celebrity does not by nature make them a leader – it makes them an example setter. It is what the individual chooses to do with their fame, notoriety, or position that makes them either a leader, or just a bad role model.

In the book, “The Student Leadership Challenge,” (if you haven’t read it, then you should) authors Kouzes and Posner posit that “exemplary leaders are very mindful of the signals they send and how they send them.” I believe this is absolutely true, and is just one of many qualities that separate the leaders from the non-leaders. It can be both a blessing and a curse that, in a position of leadership, an individual is expected to uphold high standards and demonstrate the values which they espouse. The campus and student body hold these same expectations for student leaders at SMU. Whether they like it or not, a student leader must realize that the very nature of their position puts them in the spotlight for individuals in their organization or the campus in general. The challenge is for these students to realize how their everyday actions either uphold or contradict what they say they are about. What they do with their status is what makes or breaks their ability to be a leader.

So should someone in a position of status or fame act as positive role models? Yes. Does their position obligate them to do so? Maybe. Maybe not. However, these individuals should keep in mind what they are setting the example for many individuals, both young and old, in a society without a lot of clearly defined heroes.

Stephanie Howeth
SMU Service House Community Director &
Leadership and Community Involvement Coordinator

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Turn your ideas into reality

One of the most important lessons I think that I have learned over the years is that if you have either a large goal or a pretty unique or unusual way of getting there, it is important that you surround yourself with people who won’t just shut you down. Oftentimes these people may be people who resent- enemies or people that may be jealous, but at times, it can also be people who are close to you and love you- friends and family. When I told my father I was considering being a very successful trial lawyer, I must say that I didn not receive the support or encouragement I might have expected. He told me that it was very unlikely and that I should ultimately consider something more practical. I will admit that sometimes it is important for you to hear something like this with respect to dreams and aspirations, but surrounding yourself with people who might say that your idea is “crazy but might work,” or “insane but would be awesome.” If you are truly lucky that person may even come to your side and help you make it into a reality.

I consider myself to be this type of person with ambitious goals and radical ideas! I feel like over the years, it is these ideas that need to pursued regardless of how different or far removed from the status quo they may be. The ideas that I have because of the people that I am able to surround myself with, are not shut down. I am fortunate enough to be able to share these ideas with friends that respond, “Daniel, that is a crazy idea but it is amazing, how can we make it happen?” I have recently shared an idea about a church that is able to acquire and spend over $160,000 doing some radical things in the area of service to others. My utmost passion has become doing service for underprivileged youth and after telling my friends at SMU and outside of SMU this idea with hopes that Mustang Heroes could make it happen as well, I got the response I expected. I didn’t get the response that would discourage me from even looking into the idea; I didn’t get the response that told me that that is not the proper way to do things; nor didn’t get the response that communicated how unrealistic it may be. Instead, I was told by these people that it would be difficult, that it would take time, but ultimately, that it was worth doing.

Surround yourself with people who will encourage you as well as the ideas you may come up with. It is important that your ideas are not shot down by the people you care about most, for this reason, it may be a good idea to have some discretion among those people and instead share it with those who can hear an idea or goal and instead of immediately seeing why it might fail, they see why it needs to succeed.

My friends and I are taking a truck for a three and a half hour ride to Austin to meet with the church that is making an amazing difference in the lives of others in huge ways. The meeting is dedicated to helping us create a similar model of the service that they do but modified to be appropriate for SMU. One Big idea. The four of us. Millions of reasons not to do it. A million more people who need our help.

Daniel Poku
Class of 2014
Psychology Major

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Thoughts on Leadership

Leadership is defined by a multitude of words and phrases: being active citizen, performing community service, reaching for a common goal. One defining word that strikes me, as an emerging business leader, as important is “initiative”.

To me, leadership is a person’s ability to see an opportunity to work for the greater good and then have the initiative to actually accomplish their goals. This is something most people are too lazy or scared to do.

The initiative component of leadership is key at all levels of leading and for all different settings. It takes initiative for the high school student council president to get up in front of the council to speak. It also takes initiative for a CEO to lead a company in a more socially aware direction. It is about the leaders doing something others will not do, taking the initiative even if there are risks.

As an exercise to develop the leader is all of us, make a point to take the initiative this week. Research something you are passionate about and then take that next step to get involved by contacting those who can point you in the right direction. Get your friends or group members excited about an upcoming event or project. See the opportunities to lead and then take the initiative!

-Carissa Grisham

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Alternative Breaks Update

The Alternative Breaks program here at SMU has been making huge strides this year. We are entering the home stretch of filling our trips. This year we will have seven domestic spring break trips, one international spring break trip, and two winter break trips.

We are setting a new record for the amount of service trips offered and the number of participants in AB’s 22+ year history. We will be focusing on issues ranging from affordable housing to education to homelessness to HIV/AIDS outreach and beyond. This is shaping up to be an exciting year for Alternative Breaks!

Our final info session will be Tuesday November 16, from 7:30pm to 8:30pm in the Hughes-Trigg Theater. Be sure to stop by if you are interested in making a difference the spring or winter break. You can also pick up an application online ( or grab one from the Leadership and Community Involvement office (3rd floor of Hughes-Trigg). Spots are filling up quickly, so don’t hesitate to turn in an application or you may miss out on a great opportunity!

-Caleb Browning

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Thoughts on Leadership…

When I came to SMU I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to be a leader.

Although leadership was a recurring topic at all the orientation sessions, faculty and student leaders reiterated the need to get involved. I was not really sure if I had what it took. I wondered if I was good enough to lead people into anything, what would I lead them in, and who in the world would want to follow?

After getting involved with LCI, I realized that leadership is not some innate trait possessed by only the chosen few in society. Leadership is something that you learn, and there are many ways to accomplish your goals. It can be a daunting position to hold, everyone is counting on you to get the job done, but if you work with your team and build others along the way, you have done your job. Leading should not be something that you are scared to do, once you immerse yourself in the experience it is loads of fun!

As a leader it is imperative that you always stay true to yourself, but don’t ever be afraid to make mistakes or branch out of your comfort zone. It is how you learn, and in the end it will make you a much better leader!

-Essete Workneh

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Exciting news!

Hey friends! I have some really exciting news!

SMU will be hosting its first EVER SWACURH in Fall 2011! SWACURH is the Southwest Affiliate of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls! SWACURH serves to help leaders throughout the department of Residence Life and Student Housing (RLSH) provides opportunities for the different communities around campus. The theme for SWACURH 2011 is “King Swack Daddy and the Leaders of the Round Table.”

If you are looking for an opportunity to get involved with this awesome conference we still have plenty of chair and co-chair positions that need to be filled! You will be able to gain experience in hosting a conference and also learn different leadership skills that will help you succeed in life! If you are interested in being a part of this historical program at SMU, you can contact me at!

-Aliya Prasla

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Thoughts on Emerging Leaders from an LCI Student Worker

Wow, it is already November. It feels like I just moved into my dorm and settled down to life at SMU as a freshman only a month ago, when in reality it has been nearly four months now! Gosh, time really does fly by quickly.

These past four months has had its ups and downs, but overall, I believe that it has been pretty much amazing. I mean, this is a university that I have aspired to attend since I was five years old. Of course, I was a little biased since a majority of my Dad’s side of the family are alumni. Like a majority of the students in their first semester of college, I also realized that it was a little hard to adjust to the transition from high school to college, and to this day, I think that I am still adjusting. Luckily, I was able to find consistencies in my new life here at SMU that were practically the same in high school. Two of the consistencies that I found here were opportunities to improve my leadership abilities and participate in community service activities. And I have found these qualities and more through the Emerging Leaders Program.

I believe Yvonne talked a little bit about the Emerging Leaders (EL) program in her last blog, but for those of you who do not remember what the program is, here is what Yvonne wrote about it: “Emerging Leaders is a selective program for up to 50 first year students where they will meet with campus and community leaders, be paired up with an alumni and student mentor, and learn to network, all while gaining great leadership skills.” So, I am one of those 50 first year students who had the opportunity to be accepted into such an amazing program and I absolutely love it! Since I came from a fairly small high school in North Texas with a graduating senior class of 440 students, I find comfort in small groups of students who I can get to know on a personal level and know that they have the practically the same goals and interests as I do.

The Emerging Leaders meet every Monday for an hour and a half and in these meetings we have the opportunities to listen to amazing speakers, who are leaders in the community, and hear their views and advice on leadership and how they got to be where they are today because of it. Like Yvonne mentioned, all of the Emerging Leaders are also paired up with an SMU alumnus. I met my alum last month at a dinner that EL hosted and I absolutely love her. She is really great because she understands what I am going through as an undergrad with a Pre-dental health focus and is always there when I have questions and/or need advice. It is really really nice to have someone to help me through the trials of setting a path to follow that would be beneficial for (hopefully) my future career as a dentist.

Another aspect that I love about Emerging Leaders is the opportunities that we have to give back to the community. I spent four summers between 2006-2009 volunteering for a hospital close to home, so volunteering and giving back to the community is a big part of my life. On the SMU Community Service Day back in October, the ELs were split into small groups and participated in various community service activities. The group that I was in had to clean the outside of the SMU Academic Community Engagement (ACE) House and repaint the front porch steps. I know it does not sound super exciting, but it still feels good to know that you have helped give back and better your community. Our next community service opportunity with EL is actually this weekend. As far as I know, we are going to be building gift baskets and then giving them to a local nursing home and also get to spend some time with the residents. It sounds really exciting and I cannot wait!

So, that is my tangent on such an amazing program that I am super honored and grateful to be a part of here at SMU! I hope you as readers have enjoyed reading this blog entry as much as I enjoyed writing it.

-Ashley Nguyen

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Great start to the school year!

School is underway and there are so many opportunities that LCI offers to start the school year off right!

Emerging Leaders, LEAD, Leadership Certificate Program, and our newest program, Service Leadership Fellows are all phenomenal ways to improve your leadership development. Emerging Leaders is a selective program for up to 50 first year students where they will meet with campus and community leaders, be paired up with an alumni and student mentor, and learn to network, all while gaining great leadership skills. This is my third year being apart of Emerging Leaders, and I absolutely love to watch the students grow and develop through their first semester of college.

LEAD is SMU’s only leadership development program, and this year LEAD is completely revamping the entire organization: bringing in new people, new ideas, and new programs. If you have been to a LEAD meeting before and you think you know what it is about, go again! We are making some great new changes and are excited to see how this year turns out!
The Leadership Certificate Program was on hiatus last semester, but now it is back and better than ever! The program is geared towards juniors and seniors who are looking to better develop their skills and boost their resume.

And finally, Service Leadership Fellows is a new and exciting program for first and second year students looking to improve their skills in service leadership. The Service Leadership Fellows will have the opportunity learn how to successfully hold service leadership projects while personally developing your talents and skills. There are so many opportunities to not only become involved, but to develop yourself as a student leader not only at SMU, but in the Dallas community, as well as your hometown.

Yvonne Pitts
Class of 2012
Sociology and Psychology Major

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Moving from charity to social justice

Every now and again I get an e-mail here at LCI that reminds me of the philosophical places that people come from, and the work that we need to keep doing at SMU to educate students about the realities of the world around them. (This is one of the main things we do here in LCI: educating all of the students whom we interact with, whether directly or through projects and programs, about how the “world” around them really works and operates, and about how they can interact with it in ways that make a positive difference.) Three days ago I got an e-mail, which seems to be from a student, which asks whether SMU sponsors a particular program connected with a well-known national social service non-profit agency, because, to the writer’s mind, the most beneficial thing a university like SMU can do is to “encourage students living in harsh environments to stay motivated in school, as inner city life unproductively promotes easy money.”

About ten years ago I worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for a house-building agency in the coal-bearing mountains of southeastern Kentucky, and one of my main job duties was to knock the proverbial “knights” off of their “horses” when they came in to work with the agency and its clients each week. In other words, a lot of groups would come in to work with a kind of “high horse” attitude of seeming to know what those “poor” people needed, and thinking that what was needed was themselves. Most of the time I’d get groups down off of their “horses” through gentle means, but a few times it had to be sharper – and those were the people who unfortunately tended not to open themselves up at all to new horizons and possibilities of understanding.

What we try to do at LCI is to move people from a charity orientation – of a one-way orientation of extending help to others – to one of social justice, in which people work in two-way reciprocal relationships with others. People operating under Charity have no impetus to understand the nature of the situation or the cause of the problem; theirs is a process of transaction in which people who have, give to those who don’t, plain and simple. People operating under Social Justice, on the other hand, realize that without understanding and then addressing the root causes of situations and problems, those situations and problems will never be truly and fully resolved.

To get from one orientation to the other usually requires us to teach students how to develop their own sense of self-awareness, as they move beyond being primarily influenced by their parents, home town culture, and peers, towards developing their own understandings of how they and the world around them interact. I would love to have a series of discussions with the student who wrote the recent e-mail, asking how that point of view – that life in inner cities is both harsh and able to be compromised by “easy money,” whatever that is – was developed, and exploring the realities of what it’s like to not only live in an inner city, but to also live in a rural area of the country.

I would like to introduce that student, through LCI programs and projects, to citizens and residents of downtown Dallas, who are working together to address situations and issues affecting all of us, and to persons from other communities throughout the U.S. who are doing the same thing. I would welcome the opportunity to answer questions, comments, and concerns which the student had, and, finally, I would challenge that student to learn how to learn, opening up mind and heart to the possibility that there are horizons to be broken through, new pictures to be painted, and “miles to go before [we] sleep.” The work goes on.

- Mr. Geoff Whitcomb, Assistant Director of LCI, 9/3/10 -

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