New Binghamton University students connect with local youth
During the fall 2021 semester, students in Binghamton University’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) found a way to give back to the local community still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
ELP is a certificate-based program that takes place each fall semester and is designed for freshmen and transfer students during their first semester at Binghamton to help them develop and practice leadership skills in the within a specific area of interest. Students are grouped into six Knowledge Communities (KCs) – Arts and Humanities; business and entrepreneurship; Environment and Ecology; Global awareness and citizenship; Public Service; and Sports, Recreation and Wellness. This year, the program included 72 new students, 12 peer mentors (current Binghamton students, some of whom are ELP alumni), and faculty and staff advisors.
Tyler Lenga, assistant director of transition and student success, who oversees the ELP, explained that the program allows students to learn about the local community and connect with organizations in the area as well as with members of the university community through the planning and implementation of a service project.
“They are tasked with finding a community organization to work with and then designing what their project will be as it relates to their particular knowledge community,” Lenga said. “The theme of their KC is the lens through which they view leadership throughout the semester. They look at what it is like to take on leadership roles in business and entrepreneurship or what it looks like in the arts and humanities.
Students conclude their service projects with a poster symposium, where each group creates a poster explaining the work they have done and the lessons they have learned along the way.
According to Lenga, this year the students focused primarily on helping local youth by designing events that taught them about the issues that affect them.
“Early conversations focused on young people and issues that may be more prevalent due to the pandemic,” Lenga said. “The students who entered the program spent their senior year of high school virtually, and I think that was a great conversation for the groups. They learned about the needs of the local Binghamton community, but also how those needs relate to young people in particular.
The Sports, Recreation and Wellness KC focused on childhood obesity and sought to teach local youth about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The group partnered with the Lee Barta Community Center in Binghamton to host a healthy lifestyles fair for middle schoolers. Some of the fair’s activities included a Zumba class, lessons in how to make healthy snacks, a smoothie bike — a stationary bike that harnesses the rider’s pedaling energy to power a blender — and more.
Barbara Santos, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience and one of two Sports, Recreation and Wellness KC mentors, said she chose to return as a mentor because of the impact of the ELP. about her stay in Binghamton when she participated in the program.
“As a freshman during a pandemic, I found it difficult to get to know other students and make friends,” Santos said. “However, being part of ELP has allowed me to positively impact the Binghamton community and meet some amazing people along the way. My mentors and peers have become like a second family to me. ELP has been an eye-opening experience. As I learned about the ongoing issues in the world, I grew as a person. I developed a greater passion for helping the community and those around me.
Also focusing on young people, the KC Environment and Ecology worked with Port Dickinson Primary School, teaching second graders about food shortages and climate change. The group gave a presentation on how students can protect the environment and organized an interactive activity, giving primary school students marigold seeds to take home.
“What they achieved was great,” Lenga said. “They worked with young people and tried to inspire them to do more to protect the climate. The school district said it was one of the first things like this they’ve been able to do since the pandemic began, so they appreciated being able to provide something like this for their students as well.
Olivia Connolly, a sophomore in biology, and Joe Knudsen, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, served as KC environment and ecology mentors.
Knudsen said that although he did not participate in the program as a mentee, he was excited to take this opportunity and learn more about how to be a leader, not as someone who simply delegates tasks, but as someone people can come to and help.
“ELP provided me with an outlet to leverage my current leadership roles,” Knudsen said. “I think the difference between being a good leader and a great leader is mentorship. I learned to be a guide and a confidant. Being a role model became a job rather than a passive task. As a mentor, I felt responsible for the successes and failures of my team, not because I was leading it, but because I was invested in the team.
Connolly was a new ELP student during her freshman year at Binghamton, where she learned important leadership skills such as confidence, public speaking, and how to work in groups.
“I decided to come back as a mentor because I looked up to my mentors while I was in ELP,” Connolly said. “I also wanted to push myself to take on a leadership role that was intimidating to me because I knew I would become a better version of myself, which I believe I have. Being a leader on this project has been one of the best experiences I’ve had. The most rewarding part was the relationships I made with my mentees. Guiding them through this project and their personal issues has made me a better person. I learned a lot about myself and how to be a leader from them.