When I accepted my nomination to join the Barger Leadership Institute the beginning of my freshman year, I didn’t know what I was getting into. My high school experience was filled with leadership development opportunities, from student government to the debate team, so I was expecting BLI to fall along the same lines.

Instead, I entered one of the most welcoming and productive environments of my college experience. From initial social events in the BLI office at Ruthven to my Leadership Lab in Winter 2016, I felt empowered in a space that helped foster my leadership skills and use it for initiatives I was passionate about. I enjoyed meeting fellow students from all over campus and learning different perspectives. I appreciated the ability to apply my skills in a practical way.

Therefore, as soon as my own Leadership Lab experience ended in April 2016, I jumped at the opportunity to give back and become a peer facilitator. For the next year, I saw other students approach the BLI with that same passion and desire to make a difference and advance their skills. I observed my peers engage with the BLI habits and recognize areas where they already shone. I enjoyed giving constructive feedback and watch thoughtful projects come to fruition.

I felt great being able to help fellow students get as much out of BLI as I did, but by the end of my sophomore year, I wanted to give back to the organization itself. And, so I applied for and became a Program Assistant starting in the fall of 2017. This is where I really shined and was able to give back to the BLI.

Being a PA these past two years has been an incredibly rewarding experience. PAs are in a unique position where we serve as liaisons between the professional staff of the BLI and the students themselves. Our roles are integral to the functioning of BLI, making sure that members are given opportunities to enhance their personal and professional skills, work on their passion projects, and network with one another. We also make sure to continuously convey to BLI staff ideas that can make the organization grow.

PAs’ roles include event planning, community engagement and outreach, recruitment, grants and funding support, and program operations--but the most important role [in my completely unbiased opinion (I’m kidding)] is handling marketing and communications, or my own position as a program assistant.

The marketing and communications PAs send out weekly emails to all BLI members with our events and programming, manage our Facebook and Instagram accounts, edit the website and our Student Voices blog, and create flyers. In my past two years with the role, we’ve taken many steps to ensure that every BLI member, from every step in the BLI process, is able to learn information about the program and stay aware of what’s happening. I’ve come to recognize the most optimal ways to reach people, whether it’s through flashy gifs, punny subject lines, or personalized messages.

As a peer facilitator, I’ve been able to help students work on their passion projects. As a program assistant, though, I’ve been able to point students to every single resource in the BLI. I hope that through all our marketing efforts, we’ve been able to reach students from all over campus. I hope that we’ve been able to convey just how incredible this organization is.

And now, just three weeks shy of graduating, I feel confident that I’ve accomplished my goal of empowering my peers. I have learned so many practical skills from this role that I can apply in professional settings after graduation, including interpersonal communications, social media and website design, time management, and working on multiple time-sensitive projects at once. But most importantly, I’ve gained a family here in the BLI that has inspired me so much to lead. Because leadership is learned.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this program.