Returning students practice leadership skills

October 9, 2023

On an overcast morning in late August, 38 continuing Ford School MPP students gathered in the Dixboro Woods to strategize, communicate, and achieve a shared objective. But it wasn’t to fulfill a consulting project or a problem set. It was part of the Ford School Leadership Initiative Returning Student Orientation at U-M’s Adventure Education Center. Over two days, students reconnected and strengthened relationships with their peers, practiced self-awareness, and enhanced team communication skills.  

Remarks from Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes set the tone for the orientation. She welcomed students back to Ann Arbor, and reiterated the importance of working effectively with teams. She encouraged students to model the way as leaders and to be a resource for other students at the Ford School.

Students jumped into team-building activities that challenged them to communicate with each other and solve problems together—even when faced with suboptimal situations, such as moving forward on a task even though the directions were unclear. After each exercise, students reflected on their A-ha’s, what they learned about team effectiveness and how it applies to their policy work, and how they might change their behavior when faced with stressful situations in the future.

On the second day, Jennifer Niggemeier, associate director of Leadership Initiative, walked students through the results of their DiSC assessments. Insights from the DiSC helped students understand their own communication style and provided tools to more effectively communicate across differences.

Dominique Baeta (MPP ‘24) shared that the DiSC activity helped her “learn better ways to communicate with my peers who may approach projects and goals differently from me.”

Students also appreciated the opportunity to come together before classes began. “The reflections, collaborative experiences, and challenges were a great way to get into the right mindset for the conclusion of my graduate career,” Sheriff Almakki (MPP ‘24) said.

Reflecting on what students took away from the two-day experience, Niggemeier said, "It was amazing to see in real time how students transferred what they learned on the challenge course to their policy work. They were all so engaged in learning how to apply the DiSC results to better understand and communicate more effectively. These are lessons that will serve them well at the Ford School and beyond.”