Written by Noah Hicks (2021)
Major: Business Analytics
As a senior in high school, I actively looked for a college experience that would allow me to build upon my experience in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Through the program, I had the opportunity to engage in rigorous coursework and develop close-knit relationships within the IB community. When I found the Honors Leadership Program (HLP) at UT, I was hopeful that it would foster that same sense of community and help me make a big university feel a little bit smaller. The HLP’s requirement to attend Ignite before my first year did just that. By branching out of my comfort zone at Ignite, I formed quick bonds with the members of my HLP cohort that still serve me today. The beauty of participating in the Ignite program with other members of HLP was that it gave me the opportunity to come into college grounded in a community of friends I could rely on for relationships and advice.
As a sophomore, I wanted to facilitate this unique experience for incoming students and keep the Ignite tradition going. Motivated by the knowledge that I had to hold a campus leadership position for my HLP requirements, I applied to become an Ignite Team Leader (TL). Though the interview process was stressful, the information I learned through the HLP curriculum proved to be invaluable. Much of what I’d learned in ELPS 207 directly applied to being an Ignite Team Leader; I used this to set myself apart from the other candidates. Ultimately, the campus leadership requirement pushed me to become actively involved in the UT community while challenging me to pursue roles that facilitated my personal leadership growth.
After being selected as a TL for the Ignite Serves program, I took a course designed to prepare me for the role that expounded upon the valuable leadership practices I’d learned in my HLP coursework. This course prepared me to facilitate meaningful community service activities and discussions surrounding leadership and the college experience during my time as a TL. Being a TL helped me develop strong relationships with my peers as well as with the incoming students we were leading. Ignite served as a platform to open students’ minds to new and important topics that are sometimes tough to face. By facilitating intimate conversations with my group, I saw how my students grew and changed throughout the week. Though it was difficult to know whether I was always taking the right approach, the knowledge I gained from HLP and the Ignite course helped shape my decisions and actions. At the end of the week, my ultimate reward was seeing how those decisions affected my students’ understanding of the value of leadership and service.
By participating in both Ignite and the HLP, I have gained a unique perspective on the relationship between the honors community and leadership and service at the university. After becoming a TL, I began to view UT in a a different light. Though I had already embraced the ethos of the university, I was better able to see what issues campus faced after I became a student leader. I now view it as my prerogative to make UT a better and more inclusive place. As sophomore cohort representative the HLP, I do this by bringing the thoughts and opinions of my cohort to the HLP council. In this position and within the UT community, I am an advocate for an inclusive and supportive environment.
I have remained highly involved in HLP because I believe in the value of a leadership education and the potential for the program to have a positive impact on UT’s campus. HLP and Ignite have undoubtedly imbued me with useful skills that I will use as I seek to advance my life and career. The people I have met and the knowledge I have gained through both programs have shaped me into a better person. Through each, I have built skills to make me a better mentor, collaborator, and leader. Whether I apply those to big picture situations as a business leader or in personal relationships, my involvement in HLP and Ignite will shape my future relationships and pursuits.