At Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY), leadership initiatives enable students to help others while developing skills that enhance their own academic performance, internships and future careers.
Many of these initiatives emanate from the Office of Student Activities, which houses the BMCC Academy of Leadership and Service, host of the Academy Awards held May 5 in Richard Harris Terrace at BMCC’s main campus, 199 Chambers Street.
This celebration recognized more than 200 students who took part in cohorts that completed activities through the Academy of Leadership and Service's five programs.
Those programs include Building Outstanding Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT), Student Partners Lending Universal Support (Student PLUS), Coaching Officers to Acquire Critical Club Habits (COACH), Refining Each Ascending Leader (REAL), and the BMCC Peer Mentoring Program.
The Academy Awards also recognized BMCC staff and faculty who serve as workshop facilitators and club advisors.
"Leadership is, in fact, service."
“Our Academy Awards celebration was filled to capacity and beyond,” says Harry Mars, Director of Student Activities and Leadership.
He gives an overview of programs highlighted at the event, starting with the Student PLUS program, in which “students volunteer both on and off campus, and learn that leadership is in fact, service.”
“In the COACH program,” he says, “we mentor students who have taken up the challenge of serving as leaders in one of BMCC’s more than 80 student clubs. They learn skills like event management, and recruiting and retaining members, to help their club contribute to student life outside of the classroom.”
The Refining Each Ascending Leader (REAL) program, he says, “introduces BMCC students to men and women who are leaders in their chosen fields. It gives our students the opportunity to converse with college presidents and vice presidents, City Council members and a member of Congress, to ask them questions as they clarify their own ideas of leadership, which they can put to use as future leaders.”
Progressing through a series of leadership roles
Guest speakers at the Academy Awards were Michael Hutmaker, Dean of Student Affairs, and Jenish Karmacharya, a BMCC alumnus who took part in the Academy of Leadership and Service.
“Jenish is strong example of how community service reinforces a student’s experience in college,” says Melissa Aponte, Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership. “He was a student volunteer in what is now the Student PLUS program and held leadership roles on campus such as Welcome Ambassador and President of the Science Club. He was also a POISE participant, which helped him earn a full scholarship to NYU where he is continuing his studies in Biochemistry, with hopes to go on for a Ph.D. in Astro-Chemistry.”
That sequence of participation was supported, Aponte says, by the leadership training Karmacharya experienced in his first semester at BMCC and was able to build on with each new volunteer experience.
“The programs move the students from introductory, basic training, to theoretical approaches around leadership,” she says. “Eventually they have deeper discussions with actual leaders on and off campus about what leadership really looks like.”
New initiatives: Civic Leadership and Campus Safety
Among the programs highlighted at the May 5 Academy Awards were two new initiatives within the Academy of Leadership and Service’s Student PLUS program.
These new offerings are the Civic Leadership and Participation program and the Campus Safety Education program.
Students in the Civic Leadership and Participation Program attend workshops on advocacy skills and civic engagement, and meet face-to-face with legislators to advocate around issues such as funding for CUNY and higher education in general.
Coached by Douglas Israel, BMCC Director of Governmental Affairs, as well as Melissa Aponte and staff from the Office of Student Activities, the students have participated in trips to Albany, where they met with New York State Assembly Members to discuss CUNY budget priorities that relate to BMCC. They shared their experience as student veterans with members of the New York City Council, met with the Council’s Education Committee and toured City Hall.
“The visits have a two-fold benefit,” says Israel. “They help support BMCC and CUNY’s state budget priorities and also provide students with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the legislative process and as well as career pathways in government and advocacy."
Another new community service opportunity at BMCC is the Campus Safety Education program. Led by Robert Licamara, BMCC’s Assistant Director of Public Safety, the program strengthens the relationship between the campus community and the college’s Public Safety staff.
“One thing we do is set a table outside Richard Harris Terrace with literature about public safety issues,” says Licamara. “Students from the SGA have joined us at the table, and we talk to passersby with questions they might have. We also tell people about trainings offered by Public Safety to BMCC faculty, students and staff, like our CPR and AED certification courses — which have doubled in attendance, since we started this outreach last fall.”
Less quantifiable, but just as important, is the building of rapport the Campus Safety Education program creates between Public Safety Officers and BMCC students.
“A student who observed what he thought might be criminal activity on campus, took it to a sergeant,” says Licamara. “He told us, ‘I probably wouldn’t have mentioned anything to you but I know you, I spoke to you at the table'.”