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Leadership students pay it forward

Victoria Calvert with class

Professor Victoria Calvert’s Leadership Development class is a win-win-win situation — an educational trifecta.

First the students listen and learn. Then they put what they’ve learned into practice by leading a real project.

The results of putting their lessons into action are twofold. It ingrains those lessons and it gives back. Over two semesters, the leadership projects have raised more than $15,000. Through the Maple Tree Foundation, the money has helped the needy in the Philippines.

“I am so proud,” Calvert says of how the students have embraced service learning.

Life and death assistance

Last year’s class raised more than $4,000, which was spent sending children back to school ($4.35 per child), teaching a hill-tribe family how to grow their own food and medical support which allowed a three-year-old girl to have life-saving brain surgery.

This year, the students chose to aim even higher and successfully raised more than $10,000, enough to build a school for a community that has never had a school.

“It is a real growth opportunity,” says Calvert, an associate professor with the Bissett School of Business. “I really believe in the crucible of leadership — you only learn by doing and you learn the most by being challenged.”

The leadership course — which is a required course for the Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship and an option for the Bachelor of Business Administration and General Education — starts with a smaller local community project before the larger fundraising project.

Students form teams and put their leadership skills to the test by completing a fundraising project of their choice. The nine teams did everything from a bake sale and bottle drive to hosting yoga classes and from a networking event to a shinny hockey tournament.

Self discovery

Carmen Lazzer, 25, a BBA accounting student, was so inspired by the project and the work being done in the Philippines by Maple Tree that she is planning on travelling there to help build the school.

“This is one of the most valuable classes I have taken,” says the fourth-year student. “It’s so different from accounting — it is hands-on and creative. It let me express myself.

“I learned so much about myself in these four months.”

Her fellow student, Chris Baker — a 35-year-old who is taking the class through his job as a team lead with Emergency Medical Services — is also thrilled with what he took away from the class.

“Learning something and putting it into practice was great. It will definitely benefit us in the future,” says Baker, who along with some EMS co-workers sold tickets to a party that not only raised funds, but also increased morale.

Multiple benefits

Calvert loves to see the confidence the course instills in the students.

“There was one girl in class who was quite shy and she was out there hawking tickets like crazy because she wanted to raise money to build a school,” says Calvert.

Learning about leadership and being able to pass on the gift of education are not the only benefits of the class.

“As a long-term teacher it has given me renewal. Every class is an opportunity to do something rich and interesting and if you’ve been teaching for a long time that can be very important.

“It also speaks directly to my beliefs — we teach what we are. Teachers are agents of change if they choose to be,” says Calvert, who started teaching at Mount Royal in 1988.

“I think our evolution to a university has really offered this opportunity for us to create dynamic curriculum. We have teaching focus, we have community engagement and this is just one example of dynamic things happening on campus.”

Sharing research

Service learning is also the focus of Calvert’s research.

“I research how the service learning experience contributes to leadership attributes of students … They demonstrate higher emotional intelligence and higher community organization and ethics.”

Calvert’s work has proved popular — in the past year, she has presented her work in Great Britain, Hawaii, Toronto and Las Vegas. She plans to head to Montreal, Vienna and New Zealand this year.

Anika Van Wyk, April 29, 2010

Leadership class April 2010