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Students gain leadership skills through event planning



As part of the leadership capstone class, groups found a way to put their skills as student leaders and future professionals to a practical use. Theresa Hest’s leadership seminar students were asked to plan and facilitate an event.

Helping high school girls find a prom dress

Mikayla Martens and Summer Connell had a hard time finding an event to plan. Both work for David’s Bridal, and during a staff meeting in February, they were inspired to put on a prom fashion show.
The fashion show was planned for another class, and the event, a charity prom dress drive, soon followed.

“There’s a lot of girls that don’t have prom dresses and just don’t go to prom, and no girl should miss her prom due to financial difficulties,” said Martens, a junior communication studies major. “We were so excited. We texted all the girls in our phones, and it just kind of boomed from there.”

They collected about 100 dresses, which mostly went to West Fargo students.

The prom fashion show also focused on including models of all shapes and sizes, showing that prom is an option for everyone.

“We didn’t just have skinny beautiful blonde girls from a high school,” said Connell, a senior communication studies major. “We had girls of every size and from every kind of club that you can think of and every ethnic background, girls with very different cultures.”

Planning a cancer spaghetti benefit

Morganne Cook knew she wanted to do an event related to breast cancer, but the exact event eluded her. She talked with her grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, who put her in touch with Lynn Sipe, who was planning a cancer spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Sharon Bishop.

“Sharon was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and recently lost her job,” said Cook, a senior business administration major. “Lynn was just starting to organize a fundraiser and said I was a “God send” because she knew she didn’t have the time to lead the fundraiser but wanted to help out.”

Cook’s leadership skills developed during the planning process.

“It is important for a leader to be proactive and literally take the lead,” Cook said.  “Although I wasn’t gung ho about this whole project right away because I knew it would be many hours of hard work, my mindset quickly changed to an attitude of helping Sharon.”

Trials and tribulations

While Martens, Connell and Cook all developed their leadership skills through hands-on planning, they encountered a few challenges.
Martens and Connell chose their event in mid-February, and the events took place on March 20 and 27, leaving only one month for planning.

“We did not have enough time,” Connell said. “It took a lot out of us to plan it in that amount of time.”

On the day of the fashion show, one of the models refused to change clothes in the group changing room five minutes prior to the actual event.

“We found out five minutes before the show that it was against her culture to get dressed in front of anybody else,” Connell said. “The music is starting — what do you do? That’s part of event planning, you have to be able to think on your feet and deal with situations without freaking out.”

Cook found it difficult to lead people with more experience than her.

“All of the volunteers are many years older than me and most have been a part of at least one fundraiser before,” Cook said. “They are all full of opinions and suggestions and I love that.  I feel like I am learning more from them than they are from me.  However, I feel a bit like the underdog.  Here I was going into this fundraiser as the leader and I had yet to meet Sharon and was years younger than everyone else.”

Learning to lead

Despite the challenges, their events worked out well and provided a great experience for the students.

“The day before, I kept thinking, ‘this is going to be so bad – the models are going to not be excited, they might look kind of silly,’” Martens said. “But I had so much fun and it looked so awesome and the girls had so much fun, and they just looked beautiful.”

“It’s shown me that I actually really like event planning, and a lot of people do that with our major,” Connell said. “I really do think that it will look good someday in the workforce to have had this experience.”

Cook learned to be more open to the possibility of change while planning an event.

“I tend to prefer more structure and formality in my plans but they don’t always work out,” she said. “People have very different opinions than you do, and just because you are the leader, you shouldn’t discredit them. The best ideas can come from the most unlikely places.”

She also plans to use her experiences in leadership classes in her future career in business.

“I love leading a group and this experience only helps to make that better,” Cook said. “I am so glad I added the leadership minor. Out of all of the classes I have taken, it is the leadership classes that actually give you experience.”

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