April 3, 2011

Emerging Leaders’ Institute 2009: Then & Now

When you joined Alpha Phi as a new member, what did you hope to gain from the experience? Maybe it was to make lifelong friends, to raise money and awareness for an amazing cause or to add something to your resume to help you stand out in the crowd. Maybe it was all of those things. I am sure, however, you weren't expecting to experience the phenomenal impact this Fraternity would have on your life outside of your chapter.

If you did, then you probably knew about Alpha Phi’s Emerging Leaders’ Institute. This 5-day, intensive leadership seminar is an amazing program offered to freshmen and sophomores who are initiated sisters of Alpha Phi. Sisters who are selected through a competitive application process are flown to Butler University to stay in the Alpha Phi chapter house, with the purpose of better defining their voice, identifying their leadership skills and learning how to make practical changes for their chapters and communities. Although this purpose is, without a doubt, achieved by every woman who is privileged enough to attend the Emerging Leaders’ Institute, the impact ELI had on my time in Alpha Phi, and my life, is a lot deeper than the description provided.

In 2009, I was interning in Dallas, Texas, where I would be departing to fly to Indianapolis to experience 5 days of everything Alpha Phi. On the airplane, I was seated in the aisle across from another Alpha Phi, Audie Maki, from Midwestern State. We started making small talk about Alpha Phi, the difference in our universities and where we were from. This small talk turned into an entire flight full of laughter, good stories and a whole lot more in common than we thought we initially had. We landed, were put on buses with the other women and made our way to the Butler chapter house. Upon arrival, I ran into a lifelong friend, Samantha Haraszti, an Alpha Phi at UC-Santa Barbara, who was attending ELI as well. If you thought my world was small, it was about to become even smaller.

A major part of the ELI experience is the assigned Silver Circle group and the facilitator that leads it. Not only was Samantha in my Silver Circle group, our facilitator, Lora Tuley Brys, had facilitated my Eta Lambda sister Morgan Harris’ Silver Circle group the previous year. In this Silver Circle group, you meet daily to discuss your thoughts about the workshops you have been attending, as well as having open, and sometimes emotional, discussions about Alpha Phi, our home lives and past struggles that have made us stronger. I have never been one to have a problem with opening up to people, and I was lucky enough to be in a group with 10 other women who felt the same way. We all created an instant bond.

Outside of the Silver Circle group, Audie and I were attached at the hip. Our second day at ELI, we attended a ropes and challenge course that tested our physical abilities, allowed us to work as team and trust others we didn’t know well. It challenged everyone emotionally and physically, with trust falls, zip lines and ropes courses, but the belief in yourself that you gained from it was worth the sweat and tears. Audie and I were on the bus on our way back from this ropes course when we met Gina Davis and Julianne Burke. We connected instantly through our senses of humor and love for Alpha Phi, and were inseparable throughout the rest of our session. We stayed up all night through the tornado-watch storm, and even participated in the traditional ELI talent show together (we wrote and performed a rap about ELI 2009. It was entertaining to say the least).  

These four women, and my Silver Circle facilitator Lora, are the reasons I will never forget ELI 2009. Gina, Julianne and Audie showed me that no matter where you’re from, whether it’s Texas, California, Alabama or Missouri, Alpha Phis truly do have an instant connection that is impossible to ignore, and even more impossible to explain. But what Lora taught me during ELI has had a serious impact on my life. She showed me that being myself wherever I go with whomever I meet is the greatest thing I can do in life, along with always doing the right thing, even if its not the most popular. In our Silver Circle group, Lora shared some hardships she was enduring at the time, and we became her support system as much as she became ours. Lora was the first person I met who truly accepted me for the exact person and leader that I am, even with my quirks and flaws.

For me, the Emerging Leaders’ Institute taught me how to be a leader in different settings and how to adapt to the changes that can and will occur in life. Whether it was through role-play or simply listening to other’s experiences, ELI provided an enriching learning experience. I also gained total confidence. I was going into my junior year of college in 2009, and was the current Vice President of Chapter Operations, but would soon be running for President of the Eta Lambda chapter. The pressure was on, mostly from myself, but the confidence I gained at ELI showed me that I could do whatever I wanted and be successful, as long as I believed in myself and the people around me.

As for Lora, I know about the impact our Silver Circle group had on her life, but I want to share with you the impact it can have on a facilitator’s life. Facilitators have been out of the collegiate setting for enough time to have moved on from sorority life, so what can a leadership intensive program hosted by their sorority provide for them? Lora would say it provided motivation and hope.

Participating in ELI '09 and seeing what the future of Alpha Phi looks like keeps me motivated to continue to volunteer for the Fraternity. I think that I'm a better person for having participated in ELI as a facilitator. I met some amazing women, learned a lot about myself and have been motivated to do more for my community. I am grateful for the time spent with these women and want to continue to pay that forward to others.”

Gina Davis, a sister from William Woods in Missouri, matured the most throughout the Emerging Leaders’ Institute. She was a sophomore in a vice president position who was unsure of her future as a leader in Alpha Phi. She knew she had the love and passion for this Fraternity to lead her sisters down a successful path, but needed reassurance and the confidence to do so. Now, two years after our session ended, Gina has shared with me how ELI gave her the exact experience she needed to do what she wanted to do in Alpha Phi. 

“My values changed so much after the Emerging Leaders’ Institute. I was young at this time and had a basic understanding of Alpha Phi, but it was here at ELI when my real love for Alpha Phi started to really mean something. I saw for the first time that Alpha Phi is something so big and successful, and if I work hard it will give me so much back! ELI was where I really found myself as a true Alpha Phi using what I know to learn more and educate others. I am now the president of my chapter and I owe that to the Emerging Leaders’ Institute. I NEVER thought I could be President, but after this experience, I learned how to be a successful leader!” 

As for me, I have recently completed by term as President, and am currently running and organizing Greek Week for Alpha Phi to hopefully lead us to our 18th victory out of 22 Greek Weeks. My term as President would have not been so successful if it weren’t for the Emerging Leaders’ Institute and what it taught me about our values as a Fraternity and how to use them to lead my sisters. I was fortunate enough to attend The Alpha Phi International Convention 2010 in Miami, Florida, where I reunited with Lora and a few other women from my ELI session. Even a year later we were still able to pick up where we left off and were reminded of the amazing experiences we had at the Emerging Leaders’ Institute.

So, then, in 2009, 52 Alpha Phi women gathered expecting to find their voice in Alpha Phi, to learn how to lead their chapters and implement the values of our Fraternity into their daily lives. Now, in 2011, these 52 women have not only exceeded these expectations, but have taken their ELI experience and used it to their personal advantage and their chapters’ advantage.

I hope this entry has inspired all of you to apply for the next Emerging Leaders’ Institute for 2012, whether as a collegiate or a facilitator. If you are reading this and are hoping to attend the 2011 sessions, I am so excited for the experiences you will have and the amazing changes you will bring to your chapter. You never know what could come out of it…

Alex Jackson is a senior at George Mason University (Eta Lambda).

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