Rutgers Breeding Leaders


By: Gina DeSabatino,

Sometimes, with so many scandals going on around campus, students forget all the noble things that come from Rutgers, but it’s time to remember. The Office of Leadership and Experiential Learning is built with a team that has been inspiring the lives of students for years. It’s an organization, located in the Douglas Student Center, that is aimed to help students be able to define leadership on their own terms- and then become that leader.

But it doesn’t happen over night

The Office of Leadership creates programs for everyone, from first years, to transfers, to graduate students. These programs are created to help build students up as leaders, and prepare them for future success in leadership roles or any career positions.

The team that runs the office, creates these programs, and helps put the plan in motion are Director Robyn Ginese, Assistant Director Ryan Bissonnette, Associate Director and Jordan Shyi, Program Coordinator Kwame Phillips, Graduate Interns Alyea Pierce and Jamila McLean, and 10 Undergraduate Rutgers Student Interns.

Some of the programs that come out of the Office of Leadership are:

First Year Fellowship, run by Mclean, which is aimed toward first years and transfers to help get them involved on campus and start leadership training.

“This is my first time having a supervisory roll but it’s really taught me how to accept help and work with others,” said Mclean, “we really want to make sure people get something out of the experience.”

Seeking Success, run by Phillips, is aimed at sophomores and juniors to teach them about professionalism, interview taking skills, resumes, time management, etc.; but more importantly it helps build confidence, expand their leadership skills, work on team building, and learn how you can grow as a person.

“One of the most valuable lessons learned through my different roles here at Leadership and Experiential Learning is that great things never come from comfort zone,” says Phillips, “working to create lesson plans, evaluate the experience, support, and mentor the students showed me that greatness is only achieved when you challenge yourself to do something new.”

Backpack to Briefcase, run by Bissonnette, is aimed at all students, and consist of scattered workshops to teach you things you don’t really learn in the classroom.

The Mark Conference is a program that is strictly student operated. It’s a daylong event that’s helps inspire students to leave their ‘Mark’ on the world.

The Alternative Break Series, run by Shyi, are organized trips for students to go on where they give back by doing community service. These trips use service learning as a way to better yourself and see how you can make a difference.

And the Innovate Leadership Summits, over seen by Bissonnette, that are weekend Pocono trips that helps students learn how they can better themselves, find what holds them back and what inspires them, and building up their leadership skills.

“There isn’t one way to be a leader, there is no right or wrong way, it’s about understanding yourself and your strengths and weaknesses,” says Mclean.

What really makes this office so successful is the team behind it, says Shiv, an undergraduate intern “Nothing can be done alone, we have a strong team and bigger and better results come out of it.”

And the best part is, it is still growing.

Bissonnette, joined the Office in 2013, says the expansion within the office over the last few years has been huge. Within two years there has been three new curriculum programs designed, expansions to older programs like the Mark Conference and Leadership Week, and an increase in students applying for spots in all the programs.

“We innovated a lot,” says Bissonnette, “we’ve experience some growing pains along the way but 9percent of what we’ve done has been a success.”

The Office welcomes all people, but aims to find students who don’t have much leadership experience and don’t know the potential they have. They aim to take someone who never thought about being a leader and turn him or her around to make them inspire others to become leaders.

One of the main messages Bissonnette likes to get across to students who come through the Office of Leadership is “You don’t have to wait until after school to apply what you learn, apply what you learn as you go.”

At a school with over 50,000 students, the Office of Leadership has built a smaller community within the school that gives students a chance to better themselves, to grow as leaders, and to become part of a family.

The Office of Leadership is a small organization that leaves a big impact.

*Note: Gina DeSabatino is an undergraduate intern for the Office of Leadership and Experiential Learning. The story was not written as part of the program.