Randolph-Macon College staff and students recently attended a retreat designed to inspire participants to be agents of social change. The Ignite Retreat, sponsored by the Algernon Sidney Sullivan Foundation, was held October 14-16, 2016 at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Over the course of three days, a team of facilitators and coaches helped participants discover how their skills can make a positive difference in the world. More than 110 students, faculty and staff from colleges across the United States attended the retreat.
RMC participants were Kelly Merrill (communication studies professor and director of student transitions), Cindy Szadokierski (executive director of The Edge, RMC’s career preparation program), Claudia Marina Della Pona ’17, Syreen Goulmamine ’19, Ian Ragland ’17, and Bailey Holland ’18.
Social Change Makers
The retreat was an opportunity for participants to learn innovative and entrepreneurial strategies for shaping and seeing through their visions.
“We’ve been taking students to this retreat for several years,” says Merrill, “and our goal has always been to expose students to the idea that they can make a life and career out of making a social impact.”
Three Tracks, Countless Opportunities
Retreat attendees participated in three tracks during the weekend: the Personal Track, which helped participants uncover their calling in the world; the Problems Track, which was designed for those who have a clear problem, or set of problems, that they want to work on; and the Project Track, geared toward participants who want to dive deeply into one concrete solution, campus initiative or venture. Invited speakers helped facilitate each of the track sessions.
At the retreat, the students were guided toward creating a personal vision of the change they hope to ignite. Although they didn’t know each other before the retreat, the RMC students are now motivated to keep connected toward making an impact both on campus and off.
“It was a really great environment for talking about social justice issues, and for sharing ideas and getting feedback,” she says. “I learned that it’s possible to be professionally successful while also creating positive social change. Making a difference can be your job: It doesn’t have to be a side project.”
Syreen Goulmamine ’19 is a biology and behavioral neuroscience major and chemistry and Spanish minor. The retreat helped her realize that, with planning and fortitude, she can make a positive difference in the world.
“It was intense and wonderful to be in a room with dozens of other students who are just as passionate and driven as I am,” she says. “I’ve since decided I would like to pursue an idea I’ve had for a while: finding a way to provide health care services to people who don’t speak English as their first language. At the retreat I learned that there are ways to break down big ideas and work step by step to accomplish a goal. I will start with a small-scale plan to accomplish this locally, and move forward from there.”
“The experience left me feeling motivated and rejuvenated,” he says. “My biggest takeaway was unlocking the potential inside of me that I didn’t realize I possessed. I am going to change the world. I’m going to make underprivileged lives feel equal in worth to those with available resources. I am going to be a bearer of knowledge who is not selfish in terms of who to pass it on to.”
Integration + Inspiration
Merrill plans to integrate portions of the Ignite materials into her Leadership Communication course, which teaches students the skills they need to become effective leaders. And she is thrilled that Della Pona, Goulmamine, Ragland and Holland were inspired by what they learned at the retreat.
“They really connected with the keynote speaker, Mama Shu, a former Michigan school administrator who now works toward revitalizing Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood,” says Merrill. “On the van ride back to campus, they were making plans to sponsor a spring break trip to Detroit to provide volunteer power.”
Szadokierski attended the retreat to learn more about social innovation, as The Edge staff is working toward creating an entrepreneurship program.
“I have spoken to many students who have a passion for this type of work,” she explains. “The retreat deepened my understanding of entrepreneurship, and I learned the Theory of Change, which I will use as I help create an entrepreneurship program for Randolph-Macon students.”
The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation
Since 1934, the Sullivan Foundation has been inspiring young people to lead lives of integrity through a commitment to placing community service above self-interest. The Foundation’s history dates back to the 1850s, when Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a lawyer and Southern transplant living in New York City, made a name for himself by using his intelligence, wealth and social status to help those who were less fortunate. After his death, the New York Southern Society—a social organization founded by Sullivan—sought to honor him by honoring others, and the Sullivan award was born in 1890. The Sullivan Foundation was established to ensure the continuity of that mission.