Participants and facilitators at the MAP Leadership Intensive at Bowdoin College in early July

What is leadership?  
Does a title convey leadership?  
Can you be a leader without a title?  
What does it mean to lead by example versus lead from the front?

These are just a few of the questions that MAP students grappled with during their three-day Leadership Intensive at Bowdoin College in early July. The Leadership Intensive is a component of our new Mentoring, Access, and Persistence (MAP) program, which provides scholarship and transition support to Maine island students as they explore their next steps after high school. 

As students found in the opening activity, “leadership” can be hard to define and can mean different things to different people. Despite this, the term appears everywhere from job descriptions and self-help books to online courses and college applications, which ask students to enumerate their many leadership roles as part of the Common Application. So we asked them, “But what is leadership, actually?”

Students brainstorm qualities of effective leaders.

Over the course of these three days, students discussed the essential components of leadership and listed qualities of effective leaders. Through this process of “unpacking” leadership, they began to recognize qualities of effective leadership in themselves and their everyday lives, and connected leadership with the decisions they’ll make as they explore next steps after high school. In addition to these leadership conversations, students certainly had a jam-packed schedule. I wanted to share a few insights and snapshots from the weekend with you:

Sports bring people together. While there wasn’t much down-time, when there was, it was dominated by Frisbee, soccer, and comparing notes about various sailing regattas. Even those of us who aren’t so good at Frisbee were welcomed into the group, and my two-handed alligator/pancake style of catching the Frisbee definitely marked me as a beginner. Despite the students all being from different islands, talking sports was an instant connection that led into discussions of what leadership looks like on and off the field, court, and ocean.

Admissions counselors are real people too — and have big hearts! As part of our time on campus, Bowdoin Admissions lifted the curtain on the admissions committee process. Students got to put on their “admissions counselor” hats on behalf of a fictitious Red Brick University and evaluate three complete, fictional college applications. Students had to decide as a group one person to admit, one to wait-list, and one to deny in a scaled down version of the same process admissions counselors will use to evaluate their applications to college. Students delved into the applications and really tried to understand the candidates as whole people, above and beyond their testing scores. It’s harder than it may sound, and some good discussion around the candidates ensued. 

Students read through fictitious college applications as part of a case study exercise with Bowdoin College Admissions.

Moana is a must-see film. After a long day that included a discussion of how people learn, breaking down the components of leadership, a college fair, college interviews, and basic personal finance, Friday night was spent unwinding with our Upward Bound friends for dinner, outside games, and a movie, Disney’s Moana.  Our small group of students got a chance to interact with a much larger group of peers who were also learning about leadership and college.  Though these rising seniors were at first skeptical, Moana is now added to their must-see list.

Students have a lot to learn from each other about the different islands. Thursday night’s Island Jeopardy was a sight to behold. Complete with the musical soundtrack, teams Eggplant and Celery battled it out to the end and left with an increased knowledge of other Maine islands. Did you know that the latest you can get a ferry to Peaks Island from Portland on a weeknight (Monday-Thursday) in the winter is 10:30 pm? As an aside, it turns out that “Vegetable Offs” are a great tie breaker – participants are given an adjective and a vegetable, and whoever acts it out best wins. How would you act out “fancy corn”? See below for our renditions!

Rowan Daligan (Peaks Island) and Caroline Moore (Community Development Associate) act out “fancy corn” as a “Vegetable Off” tie-breaker for Island Jeopardy.

Collaboration is key. Bowdoin Upward Bound, a program funded through the U.S. Department of Education to help first generation students get into and succeed in college, graciously welcomed us to campus and invited us to share in their programming. Not only did MAP students connect with peers from across the state, but this partnership also allowed students to gain insights from a former admissions officer in the UMaine system, participate in four mock interviews with college representatives, and attend a college fair with over 30 schools represented. In addition to Upward Bound, students benefited from the time and expertise of numerous others who assisted over the course of the weekend, whom we cannot thank enough.

When you ask them, students really reach for the stars. Saturday morning was devoted to goal-setting. Yes, a Saturday. In the summer. Just before they headed home after a long few days. But wow! If you look at their goals, it’s clear that these students are going places. Whether it was a short term goal to increase playing time on the sports field, become more involved in different aspects of community, or become a team captain, or a longer term goal to sail in specific regattas or be more trusting of teammates, these students set their sights high (but not out of reach) and have a strategy in place to get them there. 

Students take part in mock college interviews during the MAP Leadership Intensive

In focusing on developing leadership skills, we are preparing MAP students – who are rising high school seniors – for their next steps, including the college application process. We can’t wait to see students put these leadership skills to use on the sports field, in the classroom, and in their communities this fall and in the future. We look forward to connecting with them again soon, as our fall monthly webinar series kicks off in September.

Contributed by

Caroline Moore