Momentum program is college's newest attempt to address leadership at the college

By Amy Ledig

Imagine a network of student leaders joining forces to work together, sharing skills and experiences to have bigger, better movements working in coordination with one another instead of competing for attention and members.This is the vision for Momentum, a new student program that formed out of conversations held at this fall’s Leadership Conference.

Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09, who was one of the driving forces behind organizing the program, said that the conference was an “open space facilitation where students talked about what do we really need to do to build a better Macalester, very open, very diffuse.”

The initial group of students invited included students who attended the Leadership Conference as well as a variety of other students Karlyn Wegmann, program coordinator for Leadership & Community Development, thought would bring something to the program, and students who had been involved with the Emerging Leaders program.

“The whole main idea is that we have so many students who have had amazing experiences and we have trouble connecting them to the campus population,” Wegmann said. “The idea was to create a space where students could have skillshares if they want to, practice public speaking, maybe they want to learn how to facilitate difficult discussions.”

Emerging Leaders was created in 2004 and has been a space for first years and sophomores who either are nominated or choose to apply to explore leadership. “The program offers a comfortable forum for students to recognize and develop leadership potential in themselves as well as in others,” according to the program’s website.

There was a fall session of the program, but Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards said the college “conflated the two this semester because of lack of interest.”

Even so, participation for the program has not quite gotten off the ground. While almost 200 people enrolled in the Momentum Moodle course, the number of people coming to the sessions has not come close to approaching that number.

“It varies so much,” said Wegmann of attendance. “We’ve only had three sessions this semester. It’s been little, less than 10 [people]. But we have plenty of space.”

Momentum sessions are held on Sunday nights about twice a month. There are skillshares at six p.m., discussions at 7:30 p.m. and book discussions at nine p.m.

“We’ve discussed the idea of leadership, and if the idea of leadership fits Macalester. My skill shares are kind of focused around helping people think about the same ideas, they’re very discussion based anyway. That’s mostly what I’ve been involved in in terms of Momentum”

Den Herder-Thomas said that the skillshares had touched on topics of how we communicate with each other, goal setting and agenda setting and power mapping the social landscape. “It’s very broad, but kind of tying together around this central question of how do we live as excited, active and proactive people.”

Momentum has brought up a number of issues that Edwards and Wegmann see on campus. One of these issues is whether we are truly creating a community on campus. This is one of Wegmann’s main concerns, and she said she hopes Momentum will help develop a more connected campus.

Another issues raised is the apparent baggage the word leadership seems to carry among students at Macalester. Both Wegmann and Edwards mentioned complaints they had received from students about the terminology of the Emerging Leaders program.

“Calling it that has many connotations at Macalester – it’s hierarchical, it’s corporate, it’s authoritarian,” Edwards said.

“Students told us they don’t like anything that says leader, they don’t like that, they’re not comfortable about that, so we’re moving away from that,” Wegmann said.

However, Wegmann does not think eschewing groups is necessarily the right answer.

“It’s hard because we’re a campus filled with unique people, and unique people aren’t always joiners, and that can be lonely,” Wegmann said.

While Wegmann and Den Herder-Thomas both said that they expect the conversations begun at the Leadership Conference and at Momentum to continue, it is unclear what the future holds or where those conversations will be taking place.

“In my mind, Momentum is really a group of folks growing out of the leadership [conference,]” Edwards said. “We don’t have plans to continue Momentum, although I can see it continuing two or three years down the road.”

He said that Emerging Leaders would be returning next year, and that Campus Life is reshuffling so that one of its graduate students would be handling the Emerging Leaders program as well as the Leadership conference, hopefully revamping the leadership programming.

“We need a little more stability, a little more intentionality, and we need to made sure it fits the Macalester campus,” he said.

Den Herder-Thomas did not seem too perturbed by the apparent lack of support within the administration for the program, though.

“I’m not sure if somebody leading things is how Macalester needs to have a leadership support network work,” he said. “And I don’t know if the space on Sunday night is going to become the place where we work things out.