PLATTSBURGH - In an effort to make a difference in the world, one group of international students was given a lesson on the importance of leadership.
Sixty-two students from the Sichuan Province of China participated in a cultural exchange as part of the China 150 Leadership Conference offered Jan. 7-9 through the State University of New York. The program involved the students - who are attending various SUNY colleges and universities for the year - participating in a three-day symposium to provide them with leadership skills and experiences that could benefit their home communities upon their return to China.
Dr. Stephen St. Onge, vice president for student affairs at Clinton Community College, was joined by Jackie Girard Vogl, director of international student services at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Cody McCabe, SUNY Plattsburgh international student advisor, in developing the leadership program.
According to Steve St. Onge, the conference focused on several "important aspects of leadership," which included communication, facilitation, making ethical decisions, networking and understanding their own personality profiles.
The students - who came from the Chinese province devastated by the May 2008 earthquake which killed nearly 70,000 people - utilized the conference to bond over the devastation to their homeland, said St. Onge. In the process, they formed a "deep, lifelong connection."
The skills they learned are ones they will take back to their homelands to help their communities continue the process of recovering from tragedy.
Guanghui Zhang, a student studying civil engineering at SUNY Canton, hopes to take back what he has learned from the conference to make him an effective leader that will help rebuild his hometown.
"The conference has taught us the skills we need to be good leaders and some skills such as communication skills and how to make decisions," said Zhang. "I want to go back to China and help people in my province."
Zhang, like his fellow students who attended the conference, participated in a "day of service," which involved volunteering at several local organizations such as the Salvation Army.
"We came here to do some service and help some people and we are really happy and excited," said Zhang. "We learned to cooperate with people, to finish the work and to do everything with our whole hearts. It taught us to have good hearts."
"My major can make me a good engineer to help the people in my province. I'm really lucky because I can maybe do more work than other students who don't have this kind of major."
Lili Jiang, a student at SUNY Oswego, said becoming a leader was important to her after surviving the earthquake.
"There are a lot of people helping us," she said. "I want to be a leader and study hard to work with more people and help our hometown. I want to do something for China."
The conference helped Jiang understand how she can be an effective leader, she said, based on her own personal characteristics.
"The professors helped us to test our personalities and I found mine to be outgoing and [willing] to work with people and help people," she said. "Their lectures let me know exactly what leadership is and how to work with people and how to help people. Three days is a little bit short, but I still have learned a lot and have made a lot of new friends."
When Jiang returns to China, she wants to lead her community by teaching Chinese as a second language to newcomers. The years of Chinese culture and tradition are important to her and she feels the way she can best give back is to see that culture and those traditions continue.
Her day of service at the Salvation Army was one that she, too, felt helped her to understand the commitment it takes to be a good leader.
"The first thing you want to do [to be a leader] is to do something," said Jiang. "Leadership is not just saying something and let others do the work. You should do something for your people and leave your door open to communicate with other people. This is a really good experience. I enjoy it very much."
Overall, the conference accomplished several goals, said St. Onge, the foremost of which being building a connection between leadership and the responsibility of giving back to the community.
"In many ways, good leaders help make their communities better places," said St. Onge.