Leadership is "an act of generosity and service" but also about taking risks and making choices advised Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, president designate of The University of Texas-Pan American, to a group of almost 100 University student leaders at an annual Student Organization Leadership Conference Aug. 18.
In one of her first addresses to UTPA students, Cárdenas kicked off the daylong retreat sponsored by the Office of Student Development. Designed to support student leaders in building and maintaining strong campus organizations, the day's schedule included team building workshops - a morning session headed by Bacchus and Gamma, the peer education program, and an afternoon session led by members of the Student Leadership program.
"This conference provides a way for student organizations to start off on the right foot for the new year," said Rodney Gomez, coordinator of Student Development under the Dean of Student's Office in the Division of Enrollment and Student Services. "They learn how to effectively organize and team build so they are prepared for all their activities during the semester."
Gomez and Dawne Hill, also a coordinator of Student Development, served as staff facilitators of the conference.
Gaby Cantu, a UTPA senior majoring in elementary education with a minor in bilingual education, was attending the conference as president of the Bilingual Education Student Organization. She said she hoped to learn how to plan events, organize meetings and recruit members.
"My biggest challenge is getting all the members together and getting all to participate in the same event is pretty hard. Everybody has different schedules," she said.
Before introducing Cárdenas, Dean of Students Jerry Price announced a new plan to be implemented this fall to recognize exemplary student organizations. While not yet finalized, the program will recognize organizations that are doing a good job at promoting high academic standards, community service and campus involvement.
"These exemplary organizations will be rewarded with access to University funds to support them to travel to conferences or for other opportunities to help develop their organizations," he said.
Cárdenas told the group that she was going to need their help in facing the challenges of growth at the University.
"By the year 2030, we will be the second largest institution in the state with 45,000 students - three times the size we are today," she said.
Asking them to look at themselves as "leader executives" she said their role would be important. "I will look to you students for your perspectives, your understanding and support in making decisions. Being part of this leadership team at UTPA is part of a learning process that will serve you the rest of your life," Cárdenas said.
She also asked them to encourage and welcome new members.
"Students who feel connected to the University are much more likely to stay, to be retained, to be better academically, to graduate on time and much more likely to go on to graduate school, so I am going to ask you to grow your organizations, not allow them to become cliques," she said.
Cárdenas left the students with three tips to be successful as leaders.
"Know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. You can't do all things. Leadership is about giving power not taking power," she said.
Her second tip was to "continually expand your understanding of the world," revealing she tries to read two books a week unrelated to work. She said the third fundamental requirement of leadership is focus, stating you can't have a vision without it.
In the final analysis, Cárdenas said, pointing to her stomach, "leadership is about what you feel in your gut and how you develop the courage to do it."