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Potsdam program encourages leadership, philanthropy among students


POTSDAM — When Varvara B. Yakuta was halfway through her freshman year at SUNY Potsdam, she was considering leaving the campus.

“It was just because I was new,” she said. “I was like any freshman, I didn’t branch out much.”

The community health and psychology major was so concentrated on her studies, she had spent little time becoming socially integrated with her fellow students.

That was when one of her professors recommended her for the school’s Emerging Leaders program.

“I guess I was a shy thing and, when I joined Emerging Leaders, it sort of opened me up to my social environment,” she said. “It made me feel more comfortable, and it prompted me to get involved in other things.”

The program invited a new group of first- and second-year students to join Tuesday, according to Ellen M. Nesbitt, Emerging Leaders co-chair.

“We sent out 200 invitations,” she said.“You have to be nominated by a professor or an RA to be invited. This year, we had over 45 students turn in applications.”

After choosing which students to accept, the group will engage in an overnight team-building retreat Sept. 29 and 30.

“It is a social activity,” Ms. Nesbitt said. “They do the high- and low-ropes courses, they get a taste of leadership and the challenges and finding within themselves, overcoming some of those fears, maybe. They do icebreakers and activities; it is a good kick-off.”

The program, started in the 2008-09 school year, was created to promote leadership skills, service and philanthropy among students, Ms. Nesbitt said. Around 50 students participate each year, she said.

“We get together and discuss leadership skills and leadership styles, raising the love of Potsdam,” she said.“We teach about philanthropy and raising money for the college.”

Students organize campus pride events and fundraisers for activities and scholarships.

“There are a number of activities put together by students and Emerging Leaders, including Potsdam Appreciation Week,” Ms. Nesbitt said. “The whole week is dedicated to different groups on campus, and students show their appreciation by raising money for campus activities in different ways. Selling chocolates, collecting change — small things make a difference.”

Ms. Yakuta said the group is brainstorming new ways to raise money on campus.

“We always think of the things we want to do in the future,” she said.“The big thing now is naming a Mr. and Ms. University — it is going to be a pageant. We are going to try to involve other groups like fraternities and sororities, it will raise money for the school that will go toward the student gift.”

In 2011, Emerging Leaders students collaborated with the SUNY Potsdam Student Government Association to create an endowment funded through a student fee, which supports the annual SpringFest music festival on campus.

“Emerging Leaders helped do the marketing and encouraged students to vote for it. They let them know why they should support it,” Ms. Nesbitt said.

She said the program hopes to create life-long connections to the campus, encouraging students to participate in alumni giving.

“It is a unique program as far as higher education goes,” she said.“We participated in a conference and colleges are always struggling as to how to reach out to the students. A lot of the colleges have student gifts and senior gifts but they don’t have a way to have the students understand philanthropy.”

If successful, the program would add to an already vibrant tradition of alumni giving at SUNY Potsdam. In 2010-11, Potsdam alumni gave more than $2.6 million to the university, ranking first among its peer SUNY institutions.

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