I had no idea what to expect for the 2011 YLC Conference. It was the first program ever held at Harvard, and the team had not anticipated the many challenges of such an undertaking. Thanks to the incredible support and guidance of Ranjay Gulati (Harvard Business School professor) and several other mentors and leaders in the Boston education community, the program would likely not have happened. Fortunately, the outreach efforts and curriculum writing activities bore fruit – so much so that we were overwhelmed by the number of outstanding applications!
In the heat of late August, 60 of Boston and Cambridge’s most talented and diverse high schoolers set foot on Harvard’s Old Yard. As were convened in the lecture hall of the Emerson Building, I could feel the energy buzzing as the students nervously connected. We all felt like pioneers – unsure of exactly what was ahead, but excited for what it held nonetheless. The teacher cohort proceeded with introductions, which quickly transitioned into icebreakers games outside. Initial fears melted away, and friendships formed in those initial team challenges.
Over the course of the week, the students experienced the initial YLC curriculum – combining interactive leadership skill-building with social change projects. They also engaged with case studies, created by the teaching staff as a way to focus discussion around specific social issues, including childhood obesity, women and girls’ rights, and homeless in Boston. On day two, students formed teams that were tasked with developing a solution to one of these issues. To do so, they applied the skills they learned over the course of the week, such as root cause analysis and time-lining, to develop a presentation for their idea.
The last day of the camp surpassed everyone’s expectations. After a busy morning of personal reflections and presentation preparation, the students gathered before an audience of parents and visitors. Again, the room buzzed with energy – but this time it was to celebrate the week’s success. Each team delivered a detailed presentation, pitching their vision and solution with poise. A handful of students then delivered personal reflections, and the YLC teachers shared fond memories of the week. The day ended with a big cake and lots of phone numbers being exchanged before parents dragged their kids away! Sixty students’ lives had been changed, and that number has continued to grow each year as YLC expands.
-Kara Kubarych, YLC Boston Director