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3Qs: Service opens pathway to leadership

Giving back to the community is an important cause for many students, but some don’t know where to start or how far it can take them. Hannah Kilfoye, SSH’15, sure does. Here, the fourth-year human services major shares the lessons she’s learned from the range of service and leadership opportunities she’s had at Northeastern—from her co-op at the Northeastern Center of Community Service to acting as a team leader for two Alternative Spring Break programs.

How did you become involved in community service and how has it helped you develop as a student leader?

Since high school, I have always enjoyed volunteering and known I wanted to be more involved in the Boston community. I began my service experience at Northeastern in an introduction to human services class, for which I volunteered at Yawkey Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury. However, I felt I really became involved through my first co-op.

As a program assistant at the Northeastern Center of Community Service, I acted as a liaison between Northeastern and its community partners, setting students up with service opportunities, planning some of the Center’s events, and facilitating the Husky Volunteer Team.

During my co-op, I also spent quite a bit of time with the student coordinators of Alternative Spring Break. These students help Anna Sylvester, assistant director of community service programs and events, plan the ASB trips. After leading a trip to the Cherokee Nation Early Childhood Unit in Oklahoma in 2013, I realized how amazing ASB is and I wanted to do more. I’m now a student coordinator myself, planning this year’s ASB trips along with my co-coordinator, Theo Matt.

My co-op and these service experiences helped me to grow as an individual, a professional, and an effective leader. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

What opportunities are there for service at Northeastern, and how can students get involved?

There are a ton of service opportunities at Northeastern. I’ve named a few of my favorites already: Service-Learning courses, Husky Volunteer Team, and of course, Alternative Spring Break. The Center of Community Service is a great resource for service opportunities—it’s connected with more than 250 community partner organizations.

For students looking for leadership opportunities, community service is also a good place for new, inexperienced leaders. It gives them an opportunity to grow (and even learn from mistakes) in a welcoming setting. Students get to collaborate with and learn from other service leaders, and make connections with people and organizations along the way.

These experiences are so valuable for building confidence as a student leader and developing networks that may lead you to future opportunities.

What leadership qualities do you see as being the most important? How do you balance different personalities and styles of leadership when choosing and pairing the two student team leaders for each ASB trip?

It can be tough to rise as a leader among peers, especially in a challenging, competitive college setting. But most important, a leader needs to be motivated, hard-working, caring, positive, a good listener, and willing to step out of her comfort zone. Students do not need to be experienced or particularly sociable at the start because they will gain comfort with that as they go—they just need to be willing to interact with their team, to get them motivated and talking.

A lot of thought goes into pairing team leaders together for ASB, from looking at their applications, to learning about them through their interviews and leadership training sessions. Even then, it’s a bit of a guessing game. We’ve seen that sometimes students with similar personalities can wind up butting heads as leaders while students with opposite personalities actually balance each other out well.

In the end, everyone is here for the same reason and to achieve the same goal: Service. You will always have that in common with your co-team leader and teammates.

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