The USC Shoah Foundation Leadership Workshop—Action and Values

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:57am

This summer, USC Shoah Foundation education team hosted their annual Leadership Workshop—Action and Values presented by the William P. Lauder Junior Internship Program.

The workshop calls for applicants who are preparing themselves to be in leadership positions in their communities. The focus is to cultivate, through the power of testimony, the confidence and courage to be an upstander. Testimonies, with their powerful universal messages, instill in students the importance of personal stories, values, and agency.

In prior years, the program, which draws heavily on Southern California students in grades 8-12, operated as a weeklong, in-person, interactive learning experience. Participants met on campus, toured the institute headquarters and visited local places of interest. Early into March, the education team was planning this immersive program when the Covid-19 pandemic became a reality.

The education team had to quickly determine if the program could pivot to an online platform without losing its impact. After much deliberation, the decision was made to make the program a virtual experience and broaden the eligibility nationwide. The leading team educators, Lesly Culp and Sedda Antekelian, mirrored teachers around the world in seeking out and researching the most accessible, versatile meeting platforms. They had the award-winning IWitness as the main educational platform, to engage students with testimony and testimony-based activities. That was the driving force behind the decision to pivot the workshop to a virtual experience – testimony is at the core of the program and, through IWitness, it would remain the focus. They adapted quickly to online meeting platforms, learned the functions, leveraged their experience with digital engagement, and found ways that would meaningfully engage students in the virtual conversations.

Prior to Covid-19, the program was ready to accept 60 students from the Southern California area. The education team had no way to predict if students would be interested in applying for virtual Leadership Workshop after having had months of distance learning. They had a record number of applications. When asked how many students accepted the invitation to the program, Culp responded, “81 were invited, 81 accepted. The biggest group we have ever had. Transferring to an online program allowed us to engage with students around the nation.”

Through student surveys asking participants to evaluate the program, the team received high marks. Some did report technical issues like learning new systems, as a challenge, but the content had a transformative impact. One student wrote, “One of the most important things I learned…was how to promote and practice effective conversation. I will definitely use the methods from that lesson in my life. I will remember that as well as the material about biases from the virtual field trip. I will also continue to connect with my small group members, as we have really gotten along." Another young leader stated, "The most important thing I have learned is that there are no limits on being an active upstander. I think I will always rember [sic] the stand out quotes in several of the testimonies and their messages. Leon Bass was one of those who really stood out to me and that I will always remember. His message of being and educator, an effective upstander, and someone who is unafraid of having conversations will always stay with me."

Whether taught in the in-person or online, the participants, guided by the education team and through their deep engagement with testimony, pick up on the key lessons about developing their core values as a step to becoming conscious leaders. Based on the success of the summer workshop and the continued need for distance learning, the fall, the William P. Lauder Junior Internship program, will also pivot to a virtual experience. The team looks forward to the possibilities of this new normal.