Leadership Development, Service

Grow Dat Love for Volunteering

For my spring break this year, I was blessed with the ability to travel down to New Orleans, Louisiana to volunteer at Grow Dat Youth Farm. I was given this opportunity through CMU’s Alternative Breaks program. This program partners with nonprofit organizations to give students the opportunity to spend a week volunteering with an issue that they are passionate about.

About the Farm: This amazing farm grows ~25,000 lbs of fresh produce each year, selling around 70% at a farmer’s market and donating the other 30% to low-income families who don’t have access to fresh foods. This farm teaches leadership lessons through different activities and shows the true meaning of community and the importance of sustainability. Grow Dat practices sustainable farming, eliminating the use of chemical-filled fertilizers and focusing on composting and using cover crops. Grow Dat’s mission is to “nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food.” This farm welcomes in young kids and adults and teaches them communication and leadership skills while working together. Pretty incredible, huh?

About the Trip: We all piled in the vans on Saturday, March 3rd. Not knowing what to expect on this trip, I was excited to head to New Orleans. We took driving shifts in the car, and everyone drove for a few hours. It took around 20 hours to get to our destination after stopping to get snacks and using the bathroom a few times.

Day 1: We got to St. Jude Community Center, the place we would be staying, at around noon. St. Jude is a community center that hosts people and feeds those in need throughout the day. We dropped all of our bags in the dorm rooms and went to the kitchen to meet the people who would be hosting us. Little did I know these two people would be some of the sweetest, most genuine people I have ever met. They told us they would be cooking breakfast and dinner for us every day, and invited us to go to a little festival in the park. We walked to the festival which had live jazz bands, tons of different food vendors, and handmade arts and crafts. It was so awesome to see everyone interacting and learning about the New Orleans traditions. After the festival, we headed to the French Quarter to do some shopping and exploring. After shopping around for a little, we regrouped at St. Jude and headed to bed to rest up for the week to come.

Day 2: Our first official day was a free day, so we decided to wake up early and go to the beach. We went to a park in Mandeville, Louisiana that overlooked Lake Pontchartrain. We walked along the pier and went on a little hike to soak up the warm sun. After exploring the beach and eating lunch, we went back to the French Quarter to do some more exploring. We ate at Cafe Beignet and walked up and down the streets to go into the little shops. We visited Jackson Square to see a magic show and listened to all of the different live music acts that were being played on every corner. After a long day of walking around the city, we headed back to St. Jude.

Day 3: Tuesday was our first official day volunteering at Grow Dat, and we had a late start due to a rain delay. After the storm passed, we drove to the farm and met the amazing people we would be working with all week. After learning a little bit about the farm and what their mission is, we went over to the lettuce crops and spent the afternoon weeding in between each little plant. I had so much fun bonding with the girls on my Alternative Break and learning about their passions and goals.

Day 4: This day consisted of more weeding and cleaning up around the plants. It was interesting to learn different weeding techniques in order to do it efficiently. We helped pull up different sorts of crops, such as collard greens and cabbage to go into the compost, and we were able to work with students from Vanderbilt college and form new friendships. It was so cool to get different perspectives from new friends from a different college, and we were able to get all of the tasks done super quickly while still learning about each other’s majors and extracurriculars.

Day 5: Thursday was my favorite day of volunteering because we got to participate in all sorts of different activities. We started the day off covering the soil beds with black plastic to help the soil from eroding. This was one of my favorite tasks because we were told that it was the “most important job on the farm,” making us feel like we were really helping out. After covering the beds in plastic, we went to the small soil beds and planted little lettuce crops. It was fun to plant seeds together and bond even more with my group. After lunch, we went to the front of the farm where the sign was and pulled out cilantro and mint to go to the compost area. We then cleaned up around the trees and beautified around the sign. We got to work with our Vanderbilt friends again and bond even more than we had the previous day.

Day 6: The last day was spent learning more about the farm and what its mission was, and talking to the fabulous people who volunteer at the farm. We started the day off with a full tour of the farm and then headed over to the blackberries to weed around them and clean them up so they could grow for the summer. We then got to clean up the front area and learn about the plants that were native to New Orleans. The Grow Dat Staff was so sweet and really kept us informed on what was going on on the farm and what we could do to help next. After finishing weeding a few more crops, we were told to leave a little early and take the afternoon off to explore some more before we headed back to school. We went to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz and got a famous “snowball”, (shaved ice in a cup or a cone covered in a syrup). I got a mint chocolate chip one, and it was amazing! After driving around the beautiful Garden District with our treats, we started our journey to school. After driving through the night, we arrived back at school on Saturday morning at around 8am. Despite being sun-poisoned and extremely tired, I headed home for the weekend.

My Experience: Though I was nervous to travel 17 hours to a place I had never been, I had the time of my life. I was able to pursue my passion of nutrition and leadership all in one place, and I learned so many valuable things that I can take with me for years to come. I was also able to form close connections and bonds with girls I had never met, and we became so close in such a short amount of time. I absolutely loved regrouping at the end of the day and chatting in our beds after our debrief of what we did that day. I also loved meeting new girls from different states who were also volunteering and staying at St. Jude. My two amazing sightleaders who lead the break were so genuine and made it one to remember. Learning about New Orleans and everything that the city has been through really opened my eyes and ignited my passion for helping and volunteering. Grow Dat is such an incredible program and the people who work there are some of the most hardworking and genuine people I have ever met. It really gave me the push I needed to get out there and make change in the world, one step at a time. Everyone on the farm welcomed us with open arms and smiles and made it exciting to go back each day. Meeting pals with passions and goals similar to yours is truly one of the coolest things in the world, and I am so thankful that I was able to go on this Alternative Break. Thank you to everyone who donated and helped me go on this break! Fire Up for Farming!

Leadership Development, Leadership Education

Freshman Year In Review

As I sit at my kitchen table writing this blog post, I am absolutely mind blown that my freshman year of college is over. HOW is it over? I feel like I just moved to Mt. Pleasant yesterday! When they same time flies as you get older, they aren’t kidding around. SO many things happened over the course of this year, and I grew so much.

As my senior year came to an end and summer began, I had the dreadful “move-in day” cloud hanging over my head. I knew that in a few short months, I would have to move to a completely new place and begin a new chapter of my life. Being extremely close to my parents and having the best friends in the world living minutes away from me, I was not ready to go to college at all. Eventually, August 20th came creeping up and it was time for me to start my freshman year at Central. I went through the week of Leadership Safari and I had a blast meeting new people, but I was ready to go back home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a summer camp where you could just go home right after it ended. This place was my new home, and I had to get used to that. I was fine for the first couple of weeks (besides the HORRIBLE heat), but the feelings of homesickness really hit me during late September. I called my parents sobbing my eyes out multiple times a day, and started regretting my choice of going to CMU. I came home almost every single weekend because being home was my only feeling of comfort during those first few months at school. I toughed it out for a couple of months, and I finally felt comfortable in my dorm around Thanksgiving. I started spacing out the weeks that I went home so I had something to look forward to, and that helped me so much.

Around Christmastime, I was having the time of my life. I have such incredible roommates that I could not be more thankful for, and they bring out the best in me. I found myself living my life how I was before I moved to college, and I was back to my happy self. I went home for winter break, reconnected with all of my friends from high school, and got to see my wonderful family. What I wasn’t prepared for was going back up to school after winter break, because I started missing home again. This time wasn’t as bad, because I figured I was just used to being home for a while. And I was right- after about a week or two, I started feeling like my normal self again- thank you again, roomies!

Now, in late April, I am realizing that CMU is the best decision I’ve ever made. I am a part of the amazing LAS program, and I have made such incredible friends that I KNOW will last a lifetime. The LI helped me so much, and there were so many resources and people who I could go to if I ever needed help. I found my hobbies and study spots and really focused on myself this year. I grew so much as both a person and a leader, and I learned so many things. Here are just a few of them:

  • It is okay to cry. I promise. No one will judge you- and if they do, who cares?
  • It is also perfectly okay to visit home. After all, home is where the heart is!
  • Calling your parents more than one time a day is normal- even if it a 2 minute FaceTime to see your dog.
  • DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY! Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
  • Bring lots of snacks with you. The caf is not good- sorry Robby.
  • People want to help you- you just have to ask for it!
  • Not everyone you meet is going to be your best friend- don’t force friendships.
  • Sleep is very valuable and naps are wonderful.

Over the course of this year, I realized all of these things and more. Freshman year was an up-and-down rollercoaster, but I am so thankful for the things that happened and the people I met. Fire up Chips!

Leadership Development, Leadership Training

Relay For Life: LEAD Team

Being a part of an LAS LEAD team is one of the things required for the protocol, and I had the pleasure of working on the Relay For Life team. Over the course of the semester, we had a few meetings to discuss fundraisers and events that we would plan leading up to Relay. This LEAD team was my number one choice and I was super excited to get involved with the event.

Relay For Life took place on March 25th from noon until midnight. As a part of the Leadership Institute’s Relay team, we worked the table for the majority of the day. We set up a table with LI apparel and cookies and set a suggested donation amount of $5.00 for t-shirts and $1.00 for cookies. We also had a “Pie the LI” event where you could donate $2.00 and smash a plateful of whipped cream onto the face of one of the members of our team. This raised some extra money for our team and everyone got a good laugh out of it. Relay For Life was so much fun and I got to walk around the track and hear stories from the incredible survivors.

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Now that I have participated in Relay, I can easily say it is something that I’m looking forward to doing every year. Relay inspired me to appreciate my family members as much as I can and never take anything for granted. I lost my grandma to breast cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. Relay For Life is an amazing event that I highly encourage everyone to be a part of. Our LI team raised over $1,700 to donate to research. The event was so much fun and I can’t wait to participate in Relay next year!

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Community, Leadership Development, Service

LAS in the D: My Experience

Going into this trip, I was excited. I knew it would be an awesome weekend, and I knew I would gain so much from it. Little did I know I would be experiencing one of the coolest, most influential trips I have ever been on.

Visiting Jalen Rose Leadership Academy was the first stop on the trip. We arrived at the school and got separated into groups with the leadership students. We played a few icebreakers with our new friends, and we wrote down things that we wanted to accomplish while we were there for the day. Some of the things we put on our list included using teamwork, being respectful, and communicating with one another. The students opened up really quickly, and I was super excited to continue on with our day.

After splitting up into separate classrooms with our groups, we did an activity that required us to figure out a pre-made pattern to get across the “lava” to the other side of the volcano (the other side of the room). Every time someone made a wrong step, we had to restart and go back to the starting line. It was really awesome to see the students take charge and try to figure out the pattern, and we worked together to discover the correct sequence to get across.

Next, we moved into a different room to take on another activity. This activity involved a ball on a circle of plastic with many strings tied around the plastic. To complete this activity, we had to pick up the ball by using the strings and carry it to the other side of room to place it on top of a pole. If we dropped the ball, we had to go back to the starting line to try again. This activity was very trial-and-error oriented, and we tested many different strategies before completing it. Our winning tactic was to slide the ball over to the pole and then get as close as we could to the center, while still holding the strings. We pulled the ball up and got it on top of the pole, and everyone was super excited that we were able to complete the challenge. After the activities were over, we debriefed for a little bit. We talked about what strategies worked and which ones didn’t work, how we used communication and teamwork, and how we stepped outside of our comfort zones to take on something. One of the students asked us when we were coming back, and when we told him we’d be back in a year, he said to “please hurry.” It was so inspiring to see how much the students at Jalen Rose loved the activities, and it made me really think about the impact you can make on someone without even knowing.


After leaving Jalen Rose, we headed over to Quicken Loans to go on a tour of the building and to eat dinner. We all sat down and ate, and we were later shown a presentation about Quicken Loans and all of the opportunities and internships the company offers. John Fikany spoke to us for a while, and seeing his passion towards the company really made me think about applying for a summer internship. We then were split into groups and were shown around the building. The Quicken Loans building was amazing- it was so colorful and all of the workers were super friendly. I loved exploring around the company and seeing all of the different branches in the building.

The Quicken Loans tour soon ended, and we headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts. I was super excited for this part, because the DIA is one of my favorite places. There’s just something about going to an art museum and exploring around and admiring the art that makes me so happy. I got to walk around the museum with my roommates, and we were able to check out all of the different pieces and rooms before going to the little cafe inside.

At around 9:00 P.M., we all went to the Outdoor Adventure Center to debrief the day and get some rest. After exploring the waterfall and nature inside the building, we met with our groups and talked about everything we did on the trip thus far. It was awesome to reflect back on the day and talk about how inspired and excited we were about the activities and workshops. The discussion ended at around 10:30 P.M., and we all went to get ready for bed. Instead of going to sleep, we decided to circle up and share our passions and talk about our lives. It was really cool learning about everyone, and (in my opinion), I think it brought us even closer than we already were. When it got pretty late, I curled up in my sleeping bag next to my roommates and went to sleep.

We started the next day off bright and early. After eating breakfast, we got on the bus and traveled to Cass Community Social Services. Cass is an agency in Detroit that provides food, shelter, and jobs to members of the community. We were split up into groups when we arrived, and each group had the opportunity to do something different. My group walked over to the green warehouse, and we took on the job of breaking down tons of cardboard boxes and shredding papers to get the warehouse cleaned up for spring. This building was awesome because it was powered by spinning bikes. Whenever we wanted to take a break from shredding, we would ride the spinning bikes to give the warehouse energy. Our group leader, Mark, was super outgoing and played awesome music while we broke down the boxes. I loved this part of the trip because I got to work with my cohort and gain new experiences while helping out the community.

We got on the bus to head to Great Lakes Crossing for lunch at around 11:00 A.M. This was the last part of the trip, and we all settled on the bus to head back to CMU in the afternoon. Most of us fell asleep immediately after sitting down, but some us jammed out to old songs and sang for a little bit.

Now What? This trip was one of the most amazing opportunities I’ve been able to be a part of. It’s crazy how much of an impact you can make on someone/something, and going on this trip opened my eyes to the issues around me and inspired me to want to get out there and do something to help my community. Detroit is an amazing city, and it doesn’t deserve the reputation and stereotypes it receives. This trip gave me the initiative to want to reach out and help the wonderful city. I absolutely loved volunteering at Cass Community Social Services because I was able to work with others and clean up the warehouse for the upcoming spring and summer and create energy by riding the spinning bikes. The Quicken Loans tour gave me inspiration to go out and do whatever I wanted to do because I am a leader and I am capable of achieving wonderful things. This trip  was so inspiring and was one of my favorite activities of the entire year. I am so grateful to be a part of LAS and I will never forget the amazing experiences, memories, and opportunities I’ve gained from this trip.

Leadership Development

Yes or No?

Does leadership come from a “yes” or a “no”? 

When I first read this question, I had to take a step back and reflect on what I was really being asked. After analyzing the question, I came up with what it meant to me: “Do leaders say “yes” or “no”? My first thought: it’s “no”. Why would you say yes to everything? Wouldn’t that just get you in trouble? What if something bad happens? What if the task is too hard or too much to handle? My second thought: it’s “yes”. It’s 100%, absolutely, most definitely “yes”. 

Saying “yes” opens doors, creates new opportunities, and encourages growth. Being a leader means trying new things, growing, and helping others. It also means listening, learning, overcoming barriers, and being the bigger person.

“Do you want to go volunteer?” “Yes.”

“Do you want to join a new club?” “Yep.”

“Do you want to go skydiving?” “Definitely.”

Saying “no” means you’re turning down new experiences, new friends, new lessons, and new stories. I believing in living life to its maximum potential, and making every day better than the one before it. Living life to its fullest means striving to be the best version of you, making every day count, being completely open to trying new things, and pushing yourself to get better at what you do.

Now What? Start saying yes- I promise you won’t regret it. Ordinary people do extraordinary things, and saying yes is just the beginning. New opportunities and experiences come from saying yes, and learning comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone- another thing to say yes to.


Leadership Development

Current Leader Reflection


When you hear the name “Ellen DeGeneres”, what do you think of? Do you think of her spunky blonde hair and her contagious laughter? Or her dance moves and her famous “Scaring Celebrities” skits? Whatever comes to mind is most likely 100% positive, and that is because Ellen is an excellent role model. A “role mode” is defined as a person whose behavior can be imitated by others, especially by younger people (according to Dictionary.com). People of all ages look up to Ellen, and here are just a few reasons why she is an impeccable leader.

  • She is always positive. Ellen’s positivity radiates into the crowd and her infamous dance moves are a key  of the show. She is always smiling and telling stories that promote positivity and inspire others. Heck, most of the time she even shows funny videos to get the crowd laughing!
  • She isn’t afraid to express how she feels. Though she usually voices her opinions in a joking matter, Ellen likes to express how she feels to her guests and to the people attending the show. Being a leader means not being afraid to speak up and say what you’re feeling, and Ellen accomplishes this.
  • She isn’t afraid to be herself. Ellen is always making jokes and clearly shows that she doesn’t care what people think of her (in a good way, of course!) She does her own thing, and everyone loves that about her.
  • She is headstrong and hardworking. Between being in movies, having a talk show, and being a screenwriter/film producer, Ellen has a lot on her plate. She gives her all into each profession, and she is passionate about what she does.
  • She is kindhearted. On almost every single show, Ellen surprises her guest or a fan with something that helps them incredibly and changes their lives. Whether it’s donating money to a charity  or foundation (fun fact- she supports 49 different ones!) or giving back to a family in need, Ellen changes lives day by day. She makes an effort to significantly impact someone’s life, and she is so admirable.

Now What? Being a leader doesn’t mean having a title- it means that you express qualities that people admire. Leadership shows hard work, positivity, generosity, passion, and integrity. Ellen demonstrates all of these qualities and more, and that is why she is such an amazing role model. She inspires me to stop worrying about the little things, put my all into what I’m doing, and be the best leader I can be. It is well-known that people appreciate compassion and kindness, so I know to always demonstrate those qualities when working or talking to someone else.


Leadership Development, Leadership Education, Leadership Training

Igniting the Spark

As a requirement for our LAS Scholarship, our 2016 cohort needed to attend the Spark Leadership conference. Not knowing what exactly this conference would entail, I was pretty excited for it.

I walked into the ballroom in the LI, picked up my name tag, and sat at a table with a few people from my LAS cohort and a few others that I hadn’t met before. Also sitting at the table was a staff member of Spark, otherwise known as a team leader. After being called up and introduced to all of the people participating in Spark, the team leaders switched tables, and my table got the pleasure of working with Connor Haskins.

The first activity on the agenda was finding out our own personal leadership styles- something I was very interested in. The four different types of leaders were Systematic, Spirited, Considerate, and Direct. After ranking a series of activities from 1 to 5, I found out that I was a Spirited leader.

After learning about what type of leader we all were, we broke into different groups pertaining to our own leadership styles. I went into the Spirited group, and we all discussed why we were categorized into Spirited leaders and what characteristics we all exemplified. Some of these characteristics were that we were all super positive, very outgoing, we encouraged others, and we like to be outside of our comfort zones. After going back to our tables, we chose what leadership style we wanted to improve on. I chose Systematic, because I’d like to be more organized and want to step back and think about things more before going ahead and doing them.

Photo by the Leadership Institute

Later, we were separated into different classrooms and were put into two groups: Alphas and Betas. I was an Alpha, and we were required to participate in a game. The rules of the Alpha culture were that we had to embrace in a hug or pat someone on the back before speaking to someone, we had to ask about the men in that person’s life, and we were then able to participate in a card game. The Betas would come over to our Alpha classroom to observe our behavior, and we would always kick them out.

After debriefing our activity, we learned that everyone gets treated differently and sometimes you have to take a step back and realize that we aren’t all the same. You could be saying or doing something offensive without even noticing, and we need to realize that everyone is different.

Now What? I got a lot out of Spark, and-despite having strep throat and wanting to be curled up in bed- I really enjoyed the conference. I learned that I am a Spirited leader, and I now know how to help out when it comes to leadership activities and now know what to contribute. I am excited to take the steps towards becoming a more Systematic leader by organizing all of my things into folders, color coding my notes that I take in class, thinking about and analyzing my actions before taking them, and participating in many more leadership conferences.