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An immersive leadership development experience

April 12, 2023

Two Ford School students—Flor Azul Lorenzo (MPP ‘24) and Alejandro Villafuerte (MPA/MSW ‘23)—braved a chilly spring break in northern Michigan to build leadership skills at M-LEAD’s LeaderShape Institute. The scenic, community-driven Camp Michigania set the stage for an immersive, interactive experience, designed to help undergraduate and graduate students from across U-M explore aspects of leadership and identify values to make a difference in communities.

Lorenzo says she was eager to participate “to become the leader that I want to see myself become. Through different activities and seeing how my peers viewed and spoke about a situation and then approached the problem, it made me see how I could approach problems in a different way.”

Participants focused on three main leadership values: self-efficacy or leadership confidence, integrity as a core value of leadership, and the ability to contribute to creating equitable and caring communities. They developed visions for change corresponding to their passions through self-assessment, intensive small-group discussions, team-building challenges, and engaging in dialogue with facilitators.

Jennifer Niggemeier, associate director of the Ford School’s Leadership Initiative, served as one of the facilitators and worked with a group of 10 students throughout the program to build on the material covered in large group sessions. Facilitators guided participants and helped them translate new skills to their chosen career paths.

“I was thrilled to be part of the LeaderShape experience,” Niggemeier said. “The students in my cluster ranged from first-year engineering students to a PhD student in education; it was an honor to work with these students as they clarified and shared with each other the positive impact they seek to make in the world. I look forward to keeping in touch with each and following their careers.”  

Lorenzo explained how facilitators “helped me see myself in a new light and have motivated me to pursue leadership positions and really believe that I can be and see myself as the leader that I can become.”

Villafuerte described the tools he acquired that he will use in his policy career moving forward. “I will be more intentional about going at the speed of equity to advance the goals collectively and promote buy-in from my colleagues.”

”It was nice to have a familiar face around,” Villafuerte added. “Jennifer’s passion and dedication for advancing leadership for Ford students was inspiring.”

Lorenzo recommended the program to students who want a better understanding of their leadership capabilities. “I would say ‘do it,’ because when you put yourself in programs like these you end up learning something new about yourself.”

Niggemeier added, "I am so glad Flor Azul and Alejandro were able to participate. It was a joy to watch them fully embracing all LeaderShape had to offer and to see them 'modeling the way' for others. It's been a win-win for the Ford School. We are considering how to bring LeaderShape concepts to the school and our participation raised the visibility of the Ford School among justice-minded students across campus."

The LeaderShape Institute is a national leadership development program offered through U-M's MLead.  Read more about the program: