Take me to your leader

Free conferences at PCC teach students new leadership skills


At 29, I’ve almost grown out of my teenage Daria phase. So when Pima Community College offered a free leadership conference, it made sense to sign up.

The Sept. 29 conference was called Emerging Leaders and is just one of several leadership opportunities available to students. In fact, PCC boasts an entire Pima Leadership Institute, which has existed in various forms for at least 15 years.

This year, PLI includes three main programs: Emerging Leaders, JADE and Aztec Gold, each building on the one before it. The latter two require an application, but all are offered at no cost to Pima students.


Emerging Leaders

Emerging Leaders is the foundation and is offered once a semester. It’s the largest of Pima’s leadership offerings and is open to the first 150 students who sign up.

“The focus for Emerging Leaders is really the skills you would need for any level of leadership,” said Jennifer Wellborn, West Campus student life coordinator.

The daylong conference focused on group dynamics, personal strengths, community change, time management and digital identity. Wellborn said digital identity has been added within the last five years to address the fact that our online presence sometimes can have negative repercussions.

One workshop I went to presented a five-step model for creating community change. We then got into small groups, spending 15 minutes creating a plan of our own. Our group, assigned the issue of homelessness, spent the first 10 minutes debating if we should focus on jobs, houses or address underlying causes, and five minutes hastily scrawling out a vague plan.

The conference opened and closed with two dynamic keynote speakers: restaurateur Sam Alboy and PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert. Five 50-minute workshops and a lunch break made the day go by quickly. As participants picked up their certificates and cords to wear at graduation, many said they found the experience valuable.

“It was really impactful,” said 29 year-old America Darling Curl. “The message that meant the most to me was to be an active leader, for myself, and to help others achieve success.”

Oak Adison, 26, said his favorite part of the day was an ice-breaker challenge.

“We were tossed in a group, and within the first 15 seconds we were working on the objective, which was to deal with ‘radioactive’ peanuts,” Adison said. “You had to communicate, do problem solving, team-building exercises.”

Jerusalem Black, 37, is training for a career in construction management.

“A close relative told me I needed leadership skills,” Black said. “So instead of taking it in a negative way, I wanted to learn to make sure I’m not managing in a bossy way.”



JADE, a three-day fall retreat, stands for justice, advocacy, dialogue and empowerment.

This year’s retreat will take place the first weekend in November. Forty students will leave Friday morning and take shuttles to a YMCA camp north of Oracle. They’ll sleep in bunks, eat in a cafeteria and spend a lot of time discussing power, privilege and personal identity.

“JADE is good for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves or others,” Wellborn said. “Knowing yourself helps you be empathetic to others. While I might have not experienced what it means to be another race, I can have some understanding of where others are coming from. I can be more of an ally. I can use my voice to help their voice be louder.”


Aztec Gold

Aztec Gold is a spring semester, applied leadership program. Those who wish to participate must submit a resume along with an application. Based on their area of interest, students get together in small groups to complete a social change project.

One group did a “free hugs project,” setting up volunteers around PCC during finals, to promote stress relief.

Another student already had established his own foundation to decrease distracted driving. Through Aztec Gold, the foundation was able to reach out to high school students.

Yet another group worked with the YWCA of Tucson, revamping a woman’s leadership program.

Aztec Gold is a commitment that lasts all semester, so it attracts fewer people.

Beyond Pima Leadership Institute

Wellborn says participating in clubs is a great way to practice leadership, even without taking on the responsibility of a formal title, such as club president.

Each year, PCC offers 30 to 40 clubs, and starting a new one is always an option. Aztec Student Advisory Board, the campus-specific student government, has positions for officers.

Student Life also has funds to spend on non-Pima offerings. If there’s a conference students want to attend, they can apply for funding. Student clubs abe able to apply as well.

Wellborn’s hope for those who complete Emerging Leaders is that they spend more time connecting with other students or faculty members. She says there are a lot of opportunities for students who invest some time in making connections.



The next Emerging Leaders will be offered Feb. 16 at West Campus. Registration will open in December.

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