Learning to Lead

Innovative campus learning community develops student leaders

Photo: Mike Peters

Among the many exciting opportunities available to Montclair State University students is the option to join one of the college-themed living/learning communities. The communities group together students who are taking similar courses or have a common college-based major to help foster social connections among students and faculty with similar interests.

This year, 97 first-year students have opted to participate in the Emerging Leaders Learning Community (ELLC). One of the 14 campus living/learning communities, ELLC focuses on leadership development and community service.

While many of these students took part in high school or community leadership activities, ELLC welcomes any student who wants to learn more about leadership development and civic engagement.

“I applied to the ELLC because I see myself as a leader and I thought the program seemed geared to motivated students looking to advance their leadership skills,” says Sydney Geller, a current community member who was the treasurer of her high school’s World Affairs Club.

“I wanted to be able to experience my first semester in college with a group of future leaders and discover what I can offer Montclair State,” says Garrick Beauliere, a sophomore from Union, N.J.

Both resident and non-resident students can join the ELLC, with resident students living in the recently renovated Blanton Hall. “Blanton Hall is ideal for our learning community, because it allows students to live on one floor and bond as a full community,” says Krystal Woolston, assistant director of Service-Learning and Community Engagement at the University.

All ELLC students take four common classes in the fall semester, including Psychology of Leadership, College Writing, Fundamentals of Speech and New Student Seminar. “The New Student Seminar is similar to the standard sections of the course, but ELLC students are also taught about service, leadership and civic responsibility,” Woolston explains. “Students add an additional course or two when they come for orientation over the summer to make sure they are taking a full course load for the semester.”

Because community service is a key program component, ELLC students also participate in weekly service-learning projects, as well as leadership seminars, retreats and conferences throughout the year.

This year’s retreat was held at the New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC), where students attended sessions on team building, leadership, resume writing and diversity and participated in a service project for the NJSOC. “I particularly enjoyed the retreat, because it was such a different experience,” says freshman Chrisovalanti Beckus.

For Geller, the program offers “the perfect opportunity to get involved in giving back to my community.” These opportunities include mentoring and tutoring students in YMCA and local elementary school after-school programs, as well as working with Montclair High School’s program for developmentally disabled students.

Beauliere particularly enjoyed volunteering at the YMCA in the Bradford Elementary School. “I chose that because I remember what it was like to be that age. The fact that I can mentor, tutor and even give advice about the future is something I wish I’d had when I was younger,” he says. “It is nice that I can be that role model for these children.”

On September 24, 2013 all ELLC students took part in the National Day of Service held on the University campus. “I especially enjoyed the day,” says Geller. “Volunteer work is all about helping as many people as possible. With the National Day of Service, Montclair State was able to involve the entire campus in the experience. Because of ELLC, I will continue volunteering and helping others for the rest of my life.”

For Beauliere, the ELLC has given him the opportunity to take part in the University’s Bonner Leader AmeriCorps Program, which provides students engaged in community service with scholarship funds and a modest stipend. He says, “This is one program I recommend for anyone, of any major, to experience at least once in their time at Montclair State, not just because of the opportunities you will have in the future, but also to learn how much you can grow as a leader and a person.”

There are other benefits to being part of ELLC – or any campus learning community. “They create a peer group with students who have similar interests with whom they will journey through Montclair State throughout their academic career,” says Woolston.

“Because of the experiences we had – whether it was from the annual retreat, volunteering at the same service site, or having similar classes – you will find at least one person you can truly call your friend,” says Beauliere. “Fortunately, I’ve made numerous friends through this program.”

“This was a great way to start my freshman year,” says Beckus. “Being surrounded by people with similar ideas and interests made it easier to make friends, especially because I am a commuter.”

Geller agrees. “I’ve met my best friend and have made many other great friends because of this program. But I’ve also learned how amazing it is to actually give back to the community.”

Learn more about ELLC and other dynamic Montclair State living/learning communities at Living Communities.