During the second week of January, 140 Community College Initiative (CCI) Program participants representing 12 countries came together from 10 community college campuses for the CCI Program’s annual midyear Pathways to Success Program (PSP). The PSP is designed to build participant skills in leadership, reflection, and goal-setting. Under the theme “Maximizing Your Leadership Potential,” this year’s workshops and guest speakers focused on how to identify, develop, and practice leadership skills needed in today’s workforce.
This year, the PSP was held in Washington, D.C., which allowed CCI participants studying at community colleges around the country to explore and experience the nation’s capital. CCI participants were thrilled by a surprise visit and tour of the White House, and had the opportunity to visit the various national monuments and museums.
Distinguished guests also attended the event to provide remarks on leadership, international exchanges, and the role of community colleges in international education. Dr. Anne Kress, the newly appointed president of Northern Virginia Community College, welcomed CCI international exchange participants, CCI staff, and guests from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and spoke about the significance of international education and exchanges to U.S. community colleges and local communities. ECA Deputy Assistant Secretary Caroline Casagrande spoke about the value of the CCI Program, the impact that participants and alumni are making in their communities, and the importance of community colleges and study in the United States. Casagrande closed her remarks by challenging CCI participants to use their leadership skills when they return home to mobilize and act as difference-makers in their countries.Workshops & Activities
This year’s PSP kicked off with one of the event’s many interactive workshops. The founder and president of Inspired Engagement Scott Geddis led the group through a “Utilizing Your Strengths and Building Strong Teams” workshop that encouraged participants to focus on how individual strengths and talents can enhance success and create effective teams.
Other workshops included Ashoka Change Manager Mentor Dida’s “Becoming a Difference-Maker” session, which motivated participants to carry a change-maker mindset, advocate for their ideas, and be intentional with their daily routines. The next day, Senior Master Certified Trainer Candace Bertotti gave an in-depth workshop presentation titled “Building Your Conflict Resolution Skills.” Her workshop led participants through the process of distinguishing between personal story and fact, and provided guidance on how to navigate tough conversations that might occur in the workplace or throughout day-to-day life.
Other workshops and activities throughout the week focused on teambuilding, reflecting on technical and professional skills, setting goals, and learning storytelling techniques. First, CCI participants worked in small teams to complete a puzzle and discovered how their communication skills manifested during the activity. CCI participants also divided into groups based on their academic fields of study and worked together to identify industry-specific technical and soft skills that they should work towards in order to become leaders in their fields. CCI Senior Program Manager Sara Mohamed then led participants through a reflective discussion about the significance of mentorship in a person’s leadership journey. Finally, journalist Kara Newhouse led a “Telling Your Story” workshop that outlined effective storytelling techniques and prompted participants to begin shaping their own stories about their academic exchange experience so far.
Speaker Sylvia Baffour led a culminating discussion on how CCI participants could work to understand, frame, and ultimately communicate their personal leadership story. During the session, many CCI participants expressed that they did not necessarily see themselves as leaders, but Baffour emphasized that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all definition. She encouraged participants to see how their personal skills, talents, and actions could translate to others as essential leadership skills.
Action Plans and Networking
Throughout the year, CCI participants develop an action plan to implement upon returning home. During a student-led presentation, CCI participants with advanced action plans used the ignite talks format to describe their projects to their fellow participants. For example, Faustina Teye, who is studying agriculture at College of DuPage, presented her action plan to develop a simple and cost effective water filtration system in order to bring safe drinking water to her home community in Ghana. Faustina has already garnered some support from U.S. and international organizations for her project.
Another project plan designed by Jean Desire Kouassi aims to bridge the digital divide in Cote d’Ivoire by equipping young girls and women with technology skills. Jean intends to use the skills he has gained in his field of study, media, to establish “Her Voice”—a series of workshops on topics such as countering misinformation, social media safety, and basic web and graphic design.
Following the motivating student presentations, everyone joined an intensive networking workshop to share ideas and resources to help further improve, hone, and execute their action plans. Creating networks with their CCI peers during the PSP is a way to ensure that plans have a local and global support system after participants leave the United States.
To foster long-term engagement with CCI participants when they become alumni, Senior Program Officer LaRita Campbell from ECA gave a presentation about how to stay connected through State Department and CCI alumni networks. She also shared the variety of opportunities and resources available to CCI alumni such as the CCI Alumni Certificate Programs and CCI LIVE webinars, as well as ECA’s international exchange alumni resources via alumni.state.gov and opportunities such as the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund.
After learning about opportunities that they can pursue, this year’s CCI participants viewed several alumni videos from the CCI Global Impact series. The alumni stories of how they used the skills and experiences gained in the United States to become global CCI difference-makers inspired the current cohort to finish the second half of their exchange program on a strong note and keep the momentum going when they return to their home countries.
CCI alumni around the world were also able to follow along with this year’s PSP through CCI Program’s Instagram stories. CCI alumna Ana Maria Gomez from Colombia, who studied engineering at Fox Valley Technical College during the 2015-16 program year, commented, “I remember how excited I was for the midyear workshop in D.C. … 4 years later I can proudly say that I have accomplished many of the goals I setted [sic] back then.”
Through a dynamic slate of workshops, speakers, networking sessions, and excursions, the 2019-20 CCI participants gained skills and memories that will fuel their long-term success and help them continue to build mutual understanding during their time in United States and beyond.
“This week has been inspiring in every way possible. One thing I have learned is that, you may never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone because that is where change begins. Thank you for the leadership grooming and growth, experience, and strengthening.” Zandile Nhlabathi, South Africa, CCI Participant