By Bentic Sebastian
Back in high school, I had been involved in many activities, and my friends in school identified me with those activities. I was a member of a high school band, and my friends knew that I was quite good at playing the piano, because they had heard me play and seen me take part in competitions. But at UIUC, up to a certain extent, what I did in high school didn’t matter. I had to prove myself again. Although this seemed difficult and tedious, I took it as an opportunity to be identified as the type of person I wanted to be! I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a leader at my university.
I started my search for leadership positions at the Quad. During Quad day, I signed up for the different organizations that I was interested. By being on the mailing list of the organizations, I always got updates from them. I eventually joined an organization known as IRIS (Illinois Robotics in Space) because I got a chance to participate in the creation of a real robot! In my freshman year, I used the team meetings to get to know the upperclassmen. I tried to help as much as I could, and tried to learn more about our robot in the meetings.
I realized that, in such a big college, the only way that I could meet people was to actively network. And this meant that I had to provide a lot of my skills and interests in a short amount of time, and learn about other members’ interests and skills. Networking is definitely a skill to be practiced, and social events always provide an opportunity to perfect this skill! I attended quite a lot of social events in my freshman year, to get to know the other members of the team, and to share my own interests with them. I feel that networking is definitely important for two reasons. Through my interactions, I could let my team members know my true ambitions. Secondly, through my interactions, I was able to build trust between my team members and me. And for elections, knowing a person on a more personal level sometimes is reason enough to elect him or her. I experienced this first-hand at my first elections, held at the end of my freshman year.
I decided to run for elections at the end of my freshman year. I wondered if I would stand a chance against all the other people we were running, who may have been more qualified than me, or more involved in the organization than me. But I figured that by trying out, I was getting myself noticed by the other students, all in the time that I would speak in front of them! So even if I lost that year, I was sure that by the next election, since most of them had seen me before, I would stand a very good chance of being elected! So I ran for vice-president, treasurer, and society representative for IRIS (Illinois Robotics in Space). It was really a fun experience regardless of the results. I was able to talk in front of the students in my department, and practice making a convincing pitch. I confidently talked about the skills I had and my interest in the position I applied for. It turned out that I was selected to be the IRIS society representative! Now I had a role to play in the management of an organization!
With this position, there came responsibilities. I was expected to attend monthly meetings, and I was responsible for holding the standing of IRIS in the Engineering Council and the Aerospace Undergraduate Advisory Board. Suddenly, I learnt about how much I had responsibility for the organization I represented. And that really changed me. I learnt a lot about responsibility from that experience.
I used the leadership position that I had, to prove myself to the other members of the team. At the Aerospace Undergraduate Advisory Board, I got a chance to get involved with solving problems that students faced in the Aerospace Department. It was a role that made me feel like I was contributing something of significance to the university. I volunteered to be in charge of a course, and I managed the grades for a semester. The director of the board felt that I had been so involved and so passionate that, at the end of my sophomore year, she decided to make me the new director! I didn’t expect to get the position, but I was fortunate to receive it.
There are many ways to get a variety of leadership positions at the University of Illinois. Many people have won elections because they have proved their trustworthiness through their networking skills. Other people have proved their stellar performance through their achievements and ambition. In retrospect, I have used a combination of networking and hard work in order to prove myself and build trust with other students at university. Leadership has helped me be someone who can create positive change in my university, and certainly in the future! Take it one step at a time, and see where you go!