From November 22 to November 24, students from across Canada convened at the University of Toronto St. George Campus for the Canadian Conference on Student Leadership with one central purpose: to hone and develop leadership skills and create connections between aspiring student leaders. Among those attending the conference were six student representatives from UTM. Last week, The Medium sat down with four of them as they shared their experience at the four-day long event.

The conference began on Thursday with the first day primarily composed of ice breakers and mingling sessions. Amna Adnan, a team leader for the Centre of Student Engagement, stated that “it was just basically opening ceremonies with an opening keynote and then an opportunity for students to get to know each other first, so that was all centralized around Hart House.”

The next day was “the first day that sessions were actually held, so students were presenting their material for the first time, and for that we were bouncing between Hart House and OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).”

Many of the workshops that were facilitated throughout the event took place within OISE. Representatives attending the conference were first required to submit a proposal of their presentations beforehand and a select few were subsequently selected as advocates to deliver their presentations at the event. Natalie Kierylo, one of the six representatives for UTM, was chosen to present at the workshops hosted, as well as Adnan.

Expanding further on her workshop with Kierylo, Adnan revealed that she “helped to make the curriculum for the session that was run, and it was about personal mission statements. The curriculum was inspired by a portion of this thing called Leadership Boot Camp, which is a program that CSE runs during the Fall reading week, and so I took that and expanded on it […] we talked about what personal mission statements are, we did a booklet to walk students through how to create a personal mission statement, and then we did some goal setting, so how to use it.”

Adnan and Kierylo’s presentation, “Crafting A Personal Mission Statement,” was nominated as part of the top five presentations of the conference through participant reviews. They presented again on the following Saturday.

The theme of the conference itself concerned “the social change model.” To elaborate, there are three realms of leadership that exist: the individual, the group, and the community. To make an impact in all three is paramount to any leader. The sessions and workshops held at the conference were designed to encompass one of these three aspects of leadership.

When it comes to such a broad topic like leadership, many themes are developed around it, each of great importance. “I think a theme for the conference was pushing boundaries,” stated Elizabeth Kim, a fourth-year student, residence don, and co-president for the ICCIT council. “Everyone who attends this conference, they’re all student leaders. We get together, talk about our own leadership practices, challenging the structure that we work within, and that’s where pushing boundaries comes from.”

Establishing connections and networking was encouraged to a great extent at the conference. Rachel Wong, a second-year student currently working at the career centre as a marketing and events assistant, felt this was an integral part of the conference as a whole. “The importance of connections later on in your life—they really emphasized that in terms of setting yourself on the right career path and thinking ahead for your future.”

Jessica Maltese, a fourth-year student and commissioner for campus recreation, also thought highly of the importance placed on connections throughout the conference. “For me, I think I was most excited about making connections with everybody who came to the conference, and really just learning about how they approached their leadership roles at their own universities, and trying to bring those skills back to UTM. As it’s my first year in a leadership role here at UTM, I found some of the concurrent sessions super helpful.” One such workshop, titled “Managing Self-doubt and Gaining Confidence in a Leadership Role,” helped Maltese to develop the skills necessary to lead in her specific positions on campus.

Wong, along with the other representatives, was initially contacted about the details of the conference through an email. “I actually got an email telling me about the conference through my boss […] I think generally, when you see the word ‘leadership,’ it’s like a buzzword, a trait that you want to have. I figured this would be a good opportunity, even though I didn’t know much about it beforehand, to see what kind of perspective [other postsecondary institutions] have towards the idea of leadership, because I know it varies from place to place […] for me, I really just wanted to know another way of envisioning this skill.”

Featured at the conference were sessions detailing how to run a conference from scratch, and the planning required for it. Kim found this particularly interesting, identifying the main take-away of these sessions as simply recognizing the resources available and how to reach out and use them.

Although there was a predominant focus on how to lead others, certain sessions aimed to promote self reflection. Wong noted one particular workshop titled “Picking the Right Fight and how to Pick it Right,” where the importance of understanding one’s true values and skills was emphasized. To develop passion, there must be an investment of effort to figure out what one truly wants to work on.

Reflecting on memorable moments, the group noted how the event attracted students from all across the country. Adnan observed that “there were students that came to present from Newfoundland, and from BC.”

All four students agreed that the conference left a lasting impression and impacted their perspective on leadership and how it can manifest in different forms. Maltese concluded by remarking that the event allowed the group to “look at all these opportunities that other people are getting involved with” and realize that “there are all these different leadership roles that people can go after.”

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