Event Recap: Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Institute

By Lauren Melendez and Kashema Hutchinson|September 9, 2018

Notes| Photos


On Wednesday, August 15, 2018, the Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Program  hosted it’s fourth iteration of the Undergraduate Leadership Institute where thirty students from twelve different City University of New York (CUNY) campuses come together to learn leadership, skills that aid them on their path toward academic success, in addition to learning life skills that will help them achieve their personal and professional goals.

Lauren Melendez (Director of The Undergraduate Leadership Program and Administrative Specialist, The Futures Initiative) and Kashema Hutchinson (Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program and Ph.D. student, Urban Education) welcomed the leadership fellows to the Graduate Center and introduced them to the Futures Initiative’s staff and graduate fellows that were present for the institute which was Cathy N. Davidson (Distinguished Professor and Founder, The Futures Initiative and HASTAC), Katina Rogers (Director of Programs and Administration, The Futures Initiative and HASTAC), Sujung Kim (Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Futures Initiative), Michael Rifino (Ph.D. student, Developmental Psychology, and CUNY Humanities Alliance Fellow), Christina Katopodis (Ph.D. student, English and Futures Initiative Fellow), Jessica Murray (Ph.D. student, Developmental Psychology and Futures Initiative Fellow), Gustavo Jiménez (Ph.D. student, Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures and Futures Initiative Fellow), and Siqi Tu (Ph.D. student, Sociology and Futures Initiative Fellow).  

The institute began with the leadership fellows building rapport and getting to know one another with Kashema introducing the icebreaker activity the Leadership fellows would participate in from Forbes leaders five questions (link) . At the center of each table there were five questions in an envelope. Each person was asked to choose one question and had two minutes to think independently of a response. The fellows were then asked to share their responses with the entire group and briefly discuss.


Next, the Leadership Institute transitioned into their “Leadership, Education, and Social Justice” part of the institute which we had the honor of having start with former Futures Initiative Fellow and Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program return for a session Michael with his presentation entitled: “From Second Best to Source of Pride” to discuss his academic and professional trajectory as a CUNY student. Michael discussed overcoming his childhood diagnosis of ADHD to being a Ph.D candidate and the steps that got him there. He also highlighted starting out as a community college student and the stigma that goes along with it. For some of the students in the room, it resonated with them and how just because someone attends a community college does not make them lesser in any way than someone in a senior college. Michael who is now a Ph.D. candidate, is a clear example of perseverance and pride.


The institute continued with Kashema leading an inspiring session entitled:  “Reflecting with Audre Lorde.” Audre Lorde was a writer, feminist, and civil rights activist. One of the many things she is known for is her emotional expression in her poems that express anger, and outrage at civil and social injustices she experienced throughout her life. Kashema lead the leadership fellows on a poetic journey with activist Audre Lorde’s writing in which they used her quotes and how they relate to them attributing to being a leader, discovering their strengths and learning from their struggles.

Following the captivating session on Audre Lorde, Lauren lead an insightful multicultural awareness and social justice focused presentation entitled: “Exploring Social Justice: Working Towards Equity In Higher Education”. Lauren started off with exploring the demographics and population of people that reside in New York City and that attend the City University of New York (CUNY). With New York City being one of the most diverse cities in the world and often referred to as a melting pot, she discussed what it means for students of all races to attend CUNY, which often feels divided and not inclusive of all of it’s colleges which spans throughout 25 campuses across the city’s five boroughs providing exceptional access for high school graduates, high academic quality, numerous programs to support student completion and deep connections with important industries for career success. Lauren proceeded to discuss the Future Initiative’s mission and their emphasis on advocating for greater equity and innovation in higher education at every level of the university. She continued with exploring one of the Futures Initiative and Leadership Program’s primary focuses which is social justice and advocacy with the Reflection: What’s Your FRAME? handout which is used to evoke critical thinking and awareness of social justice. Lauren concluded with a brief activity which consisted of questions she asked the leadership fellows that force them to examine their feelings and learning to be aware that we all have our own biases and how we can learn new and effective ways to establish rapport with our peers to overcome negative stereotypes, but more importantly to learn from each other in order to make accurate and new trainings of thought when it comes to others that are not of the same race or culture as you.


During Lauren’s presentation, Cathy shared her experiences growing up with her immigrant grandmother who did not know much English, but was determined to see her granddaughter succeed. Cathy also shared her challenging experiences she faced as a highschool student and explored the concept that the lens of those who are considered have nots is a wider and is more realistic than those who have.


After lunch the Leadership Institute transitioned into the Professional Development and Establishing an Online Identity part of the institute which kicked off with Jessica leading an informative session entitled: “Introduction to CBOX and The CUNY Leaders Fellowship and Mentors site”. Jessica showed the leadership fellows how to create accounts on futuresinitiative.org, gave an introduction to using the Peer Mentors site and where to access the documentation for creating new accounts on the mentors site: Resource: bit.ly/MentorSiteDoc where students will write blogs and post to the mentors site throughout their duration in the program.   


The next session shifted gears with Christina’s presentation, “Developing an Online Identity.” Christina went over the do’s and dont’s of the professional digital face which including searching for yourself to make sure there aren’t any inappropriate images or words that may damage the prospect of future endeavors and how to resolve it. Christina did a short exercise where the leaders wrote down three words that described themselves and had another leader read it out loud. If they were not comfortable with it, then it was an indicator to rethink it. This exercise highlighted perspective and being aware of what we communicate. Christina also discussed having the leaders use their experiences on resumes and that some of the work that they do outside of academia may not be mutually exclusive to be a part of their digital identity.


Once the developing an online identity presentation concluded, Lauren and Kashema went on to discuss what the remainder of the Undergraduate Leadership Program would entail and what the Leadership fellows could expect participating in the program. Topics that were discussed included monthly blog posts, attending meet-ups and events, conferences, mentoring journals, joint meetings with the CUNY Humanities Alliance, enrichment activities, Slack communication, program assessments and all details surrounding their enrollment as fellow in the program.


The institute concluded with an exit ticket where the Futures Initiative’s staff, doctoral fellows and Leadership fellows gathered in a circle and everyone verbally shared their experiences and highlights from the institute. The fellows mentioned many different takeaways they had during the full day institute which included feeling inspired and excited about the upcoming year in the leadership program, meeting new people and building rapport with their fellow peers, learning new and innovative practices pertaining to leadership and mentorship, others enjoyed learning new meaning behind the Audre Lorde quotes and many enjoyed learning about who she was for the very first time. There were some fellows who enjoyed learning about social justice, advocacy and feeling hopeful that they are now in space where they can possibly do more to advocate for themselves and others. A group photo was taken, in addition to individual headshots of each fellow which was distributed to them in order to update their online profile on the mentor’s blog site. Each fellow who completed the day long institute was also each given a Futures Initiative certificate of achievement as well for their participation and completion of the institute.  



A final note of gratitude: We would like to end this recap with thanking each and every person who attended, participated and or helped contribute to making this year’s institute a success. We would like to give special thanks and recognition to Michael Rifino, Christina Katopodis, and Jessica Murray, for taking on a leadership role with presenting during a session and helping to make this year’s Undergraduate Leadership Institute special and unique from previous years. We also would like to thank Cathy Davidson, Katina Rogers, and Celi Lebron, for the administration and logistic support during the planning stages of the institute and for continued efforts to seek funding sources in order for the program to continue to take place. Last but certainly not least, we would like to send our appreciation to Sujung Kim, Gustavo Jiménez and Siqi Tu  for your presence and day of event support during the institute.










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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for gifting us with Cathy Davidson’s ‘The New Education’. I’m 1/4 done with it, and it is as informative as it is inspiring! I’m grateful to be part of such a progressive group of people.

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