Quick! How would you rescue an injured person stuck on an overturned canoe in the middle of a lake?
      Students involved in the GOLD Experience (Growth Opportunities in Leadership Development) learn new approaches to resolving such challenges. But this is much more than an exercise in emergency simulations. The GOLD Experience, sponsored by the Office of Residence Life Leadership Committee, is a formative program that helps students develop leadership skills and life habits to enhance their effectiveness as communicators and leaders. “Being able to make ethical choices, position yourself as a leader in various situations, and comprehend the benefits of leading an interdependent life are the goals that students in the GOLD Experience will achieve,” says residence director Teresa Metzger of the Office of Residence Life.
      The program—based on ideas that author Stephen Covey presents in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People challenges students to examine their personal and professional goals and teaches them how to achieve them. Participants study Covey’s three phases of leadership—dependence, independence, and interdependence—and come to understand the importance of investing in others to achieve greater rewards for all. Ultimately, the program leads students to a better understanding of themselves, their values and goals, and their relationships with others.
      John Eisenmann G’01, a public administration student in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, believes the GOLD Experience helped confirm and refine his leadership ability. “This program is definitely a worthwhile experience for any student who plans on assuming a leadership role,” he says. “Learning to take responsibility for my own actions has led me to effective communications with student groups, public entities, and corporations.”
      Although the GOLD Experience now incorporates Covey’s ideas, it has actually been in existence at SU for more than 20 years and continues to evolve. The Office of Residence Life currently offers the program as a six-week one-credit public affairs and citizenship course through the College of Arts and Sciences. “A core class like this for all students would enhance their SU experience and develop the next generation of leaders in all walks of life,” Metzger says.
      In addition to exploring Covey’s ideas, participants are required to perform community service at local organizations and keep a journal based on their experiences, drawing parallels between their leadership conduct and Covey’s text.


courtesy of the office of residence life
Participants in the Office of Residence Life's GOLD Experience gather at Camp Casowasco, a retreat site for the program.

      A highlight of the GOLD Experience is an overnight retreat at Camp Casowasco in Moravia, New York, where students examine what they’ve learned about leadership, communication, time management, and critical thinking. The “swamped-in-a-canoe” simulation—a typical retreat exercise—requires students to engage Covey’s principle of “seek first to understand, then be understood.” This exercise in group dynamics challenges the students to evaluate their own thinking, set personal interests aside, work together as a team, make decisions under pressure, and see how negotiation can move a process forward.
      Metzger says students usually come away from the experience with a better sense of self-worth and the value of achieving a collective good, instead of self-centered gain.
      Since completing the course, Megan Auman ’03 is making her own inroads as a leader. A metalsmithing major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, she also is director of programming on the Executive Board of the Residence Hall Association. She often addresses conflicts that arise among students in residence halls, such as noise levels, privacy concerns, and personal misunderstandings. The GOLD Experience, she says, helps her deal with these issues in a fair and thoughtful way. “The GOLD Experience changed my attitude and enhanced my leadership skills,” she says. “There are no winners or losers in a conflict situation—I now seek a win-win outcome.
                                                    —Joanne Arany

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