The silence in The University of Texas-Pan American Ballroom ended with occasional pops of balloons and discussion among students on how to build a tower of the decorations that could stand on its own.
Five teams of students each took turns blowing up balloons and taping together those that didn't break to form the structures Jan. 11 during one of many activities from the LeaderShape program.
The task, several students said, was harder than they anticipated.
"It was hard to work together in the beginning. There was not much communication. We all had different ideas but we couldn't stick to one," one student said during a group discussion after the contest.
Now in its sixth year at UTPA, LeaderShape is a six-day program that teaches students the skills necessary to become effective leaders. This year the event ran from Jan. 9-14.
Northrop Grumman Corporation and The Procter & Gamble Co. co-sponsored the event with UTPA.
Velinda Reyes, UTPA's director of corporate and foundation relations, said the University was introduced to the program several years ago through a partnership with Ford Motor Co. in order to further prepare students for entering the workforce. Reyes added that the University is grateful to the corporate sponsors for their commitment to help train UTPA students better.
"It is important that the students not only be academically prepared for the world of work but also have the skill sets that they are going to need and leadership is definitely one of the biggest skill sets that a student will need when they go out into the workforce," Reyes said.
Throughout the week, students participated in numerous activities including hands-on projects like the balloon tower competition and group discussions that teach them how to work in teams and help them discover their leadership abilities.
They also heard from local and national business and education officials about leadership skills, professional challenges and accomplishments, team work and trust. Members of that panel discussion were: UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA Associate Dean for the College of Engineering and Computer Science Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, Director of Industry and University Initiatives for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems George Reynolds, Senior Vice President of International Bank of Commerce-Commercial Lending Sonia Falcon, and TXU Energy Community Relations Manager Catalina Madrigal-Rupert.
Students were selected through an application process. This year, 66 students from a wide range of majors participated in the event. This was the largest group the University has hosted, the program organizers said.
Students said they had no idea what they were getting into when they began the program, but by week's end, they discovered their talents and feel the activities and lectures have helped them immensely in moving to the next level of their careers.
Kaled Diab, a freshman in the pre-med program majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology, said he learned much about the qualities of a leader, including the importance of working with others and taking responsibility for the choices one makes.
"Everyone has the same potential inside of them, it's just knowing how to activate that potential," Diab said.
Several other students said they feel the training helped build their confidence and develop stronger inter-personal skills.
"It's great, I've met so many new friends. I feel like I've come out of my shell so much," said Lisa Gutierrez, a junior majoring in nursing.
Angela Thomas, who began her college career at UTPA this school year as a junior majoring in biology, said she enjoyed working in small groups to which they were assigned because it allowed her to give and receive feedback on ideas.
"It's like a practice for real life," Thomas said about the program.
Northrop Grumman's Reynolds said he is impressed with the LeaderShape program and believes that students who receive leadership training early on will progress in their careers faster than those who don't.
"Leadership and teamwork are important in business, important in sports teams, important in any activity that we do, and grooming new leaders is something that takes time and understanding," Reynolds said. "When I first saw the LeaderShape activities here, I was impressed that a lot of the things that were being taught to the students in this voluntary activity are the same things that we teach our executives when they attend leadership forum. To get this type of information in the hands of young people early in their careers, as opposed to later, I thought was worthwhile and encouraging. We continually look for people to be leaders; that's what makes the difference in winning or losing."
Reynolds said Northrop Grumman looks for people who have strong written and oral communication skills, as well as innovative ideas and who can inspire confidence in their teammates so they can move forward with their tasks for the benefit of the overall organization.
The LeaderShape Institute, which developed the LeaderShape program, was created by the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity in 1986 to improve campus leadership. Two years later the institute became an independent nonprofit organization. LeaderShape Inc. partners with higher education institutions and corporations all over the country, according to its website.
"I believe that LeaderShape is a wonderful leadership experience," said Jodie Moore-Dominguez, assistant director Student Life and Transition Services and the lead organizer of LeaderShape. "Students get to learn a lot about themselves through this weeklong camp. It is an experience that they will remember for a long time."
For information on how to support this program, please contact Reyes at the UTPA Development Office (956) 665-5301.