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USM team wins national leadership competition

A seven-member group of USM students took home the grand prize recently from the second annual Collegiate Leadership Competition at Cleveland’s John Carroll University.

“They did extraordinarily well,” said Dan Jenkins, an assistant professor and director of USM’s Leadership and Organizational Studies program, which is based on the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College campus. Jenkins also served as the team’s co-coach and the van driver for their 12-hour journey.

The dozen challenges that made up the competition tested the students’ ability to work together while communicating effectively and acting decisively. One test required them to verbally guide blindfolded teammates through a maze, while another required them to build and navigate a boat made from household items, such as cardboard and tape.

“Theirs was the only boat that didn’t break,” Jenkins said. “They didn’t win every event, but they did well enough in most of them and never placed last.”

According to team member Salina Mallory, they succeeded because they worked well together. “It’s one of the things I’ve learned from this competition,” said Mallory, a junior studying criminology and psychology. “Being a leader is not only about leading the group; it’s also about following and understanding the group in its entirety.”

The team included five other competitors: Camden Ege, Andrew Kiezulas, Christina Marie Williams, Autumn Duguay and Steven Dee, Jr. Student John Jackson served as an alternate, and graduate leadership student Sean Joyce served as co-coach with Jenkins.

Jenkins hoped they’d mesh. At their first practice, they talked about the traits of great teams, discussed individual strengths and agreed on ground rules that included showing up, being rested and arriving prepared. The group quickly bonded. They spent spent more than three months preparing for the competition by running their own challenges during marathon weekly practice sessions, where they conducted their own blindfold tests and, like members of TV’s “Apprentice,” ran drills in organizing group presentations in only minutes.

Besides earning the top prize, the team also took home the spirit award for their demeanor during the competition. “There didn’t seem to be any egos,” Jenkins said. “There was no infighting or agendas. It could be that these are their natural personalities and behaviors, and we struck gold.”

The roughly $4,000 cost of the trip was covered by a combination of student government money and funding from USM’s Title III grant to support high-impact educational practices. Jenkins, who serves on the board of the competition, says next year’s event will be held in Boston.

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