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President’s Fellows Evolve into Positive Social Changemakers

Published: May 03, 2012
Colleen Itani '12, right, helps a Tampa Heights neighbor plant vegetables in the community garden.
Colleen Itani '12, right, helps a Tampa Heights neighbor plant vegetables in the community garden.
For the last four years, eight members of “cohort one” have spent a large amount of their college experience together. As the first group of President’s Leadership Fellows (PLF) to complete the program together and graduate on May 6, the students have all developed their own leadership styles and grown as a group of friends.

“PLF gave me not only the path to grow and develop into the leader I am today, but also an incredible, diverse and inspiring support system,” said Lauren Ridder ’12, a biology major with an environmental science minor. “My cohort is like my family, and I learned just as much from the other PLFers as I did from the workshops.”

The President’s Leadership Fellows is a four-year University scholarship program that accepts 25 freshmen each year and refines their ability to lead in a global world. Each year has a specific focus: self, team, community and change, and global leadership.

“Being in PLF created an environment where I was able to develop and explore my leadership potential,” said Caitlyn Guthrie ’12, a double major in English and government and world affairs. “The lessons I learned and experiences I had as a fellow made me more confident as a student and leader during my time at UT.”

The third year’s community change project involves facilitating a sustainable project that develops fellows into responsibly engaged citizens. Cohort one partnered with the Tampa Heights neighborhood to build a community garden .

Colleen Itani ’12, an international and cultural studies major, said being a part of the program has allowed her to develop as an individual, engage in The University of Tampa and Tampa community, and foster a sense of self.

“I find comfort in knowing the skills I learned, from collaboration to how to have a discussion and conflict with civility, will help me in any career,” said Itani.

Alexandra Smith ’12 said she learned that leadership means a lot more than directing people and getting a job done.

“It’s about being accountable,” Smith said. “It’s realizing that sometimes you have to step back. It’s not all about being in the spotlight.”

Eric Kuczynski ’12, a management major with an economics minor, said the program has instilled confidence in him.

"PLF has enriched my entire undergraduate experience here at The University of Tampa,” he said. “Being able to study and practice situational leadership has given me confidence to overcome any obstacles and to take initiative whenever possible."

Other members of cohort one that will be receiving their diplomas at May Commencement include Cristine Giraldez, Abbey Ray and Margaret Stewart. Three members of cohort one graduated early, including Elizabeth Knight Russell ’11, John Jones ’11 and Zachary Zachariades ’11. Also graduating on Sunday are several members of cohorts two and three, including Casey Foster, Erin Ledford, Laurel Sanchez and Tavya Benjamin.

“You’ve learned that excellence is not a single act but a habit,” said President Ronald L. Vaughn at the graduation dinner he and his wife, Reńee, hosted for the PLF graduates April 27. “We hope to have encouraged you to continue to be involved. It is crucial in our community with a sea of problems and challenges for leaders like you to step up and create positive social change.”

The University 132nd commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 6, will be webcasted live. To watch, go to . Tweet at #UTCommencement . For more information about commencement activities, visit .

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