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Longman Residential Learning Community Celebrates First Year

Fourteen Loomis students and their faculty mentors recently celebrated a year's worth of living and learning together as part of the Longman Leadership Institute, a program aimed at empowering young women and encouraging their development of leadership skills within a supportive on-campus community.

"It was a really great year," noted Lillian Corman, faculty program leader and head of Longman Hall, which was dedicated to the Longman Leadership Institute in this first year.

The program involved eight sophomores and two junior prefects who lived in Longman and four sophomore day students. Programming included weekly evening group learning sessions focused on different leadership themes, and other activities throughout the year focused on skills development.

The Longman program was partly inspired by residential learning communities at many liberal arts colleges where students and faculty explore a thematic course together in an associated and supportive housing environment, according to Lillian.

Similarly, Longman's small residential capacity is ideal for the specialized programming, according to Dean of Students Mike Donegan, and the leadership program helped attract students to live in Longman, which is located a little farther from the center of campus than the residential quadrangles.

Starting out small is important in order to assess the program's effectiveness and to ensure that the time students dedicate to the program fits in with their academic and extra-curricular commitments, according to Mike, who is a member of the Longman dorm faculty.

The Longman curriculum was organized and led by Lillian, who has experience running leadership programs in other educational settings, as well as Mike and Mimi Donegan, both of whom have master's degrees in social work and experience as dorm faculty. Other faculty members with leadership experience at Loomis and beyond served as dorm affiliates and shared their knowledge with the group. The affiliates included Director of Athletics Sue Cabot; Karen Parsons, school archivist and history teacher; Elizabeth Parada, director of Loomis' Office of Diversity & Inclusion; Manya Steinfeld, psychology teacher and girls varsity field hockey coach; and Kalena Bovell, the Loomis Chaffee Orchestra director, who also directs other professional music ensembles.

The experiment was highly successful, remarked Mike, who recently earned an M.B.A. with a specialization in leadership. "Importantly, [the students] developed their own styles — because leadership means different things to different people," Mike said. "And they also learned how to be good followers."

The Longman Leadership programming kicked off in September with a group read and discussion of Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves, by Kate T. Parker. The book is an inspirational collection of prose and photographs celebrating the strength and individuality of girls and young women, according to Mike and Lillian. The rest of the year-long curriculum focused on identifying the characteristics of good leaders; discussing ways for girls and young women to build self-confidence; developing effective communication skills; and learning how to set specific, attainable, and measurable goals for personal success.

Together, the girls and faculty also discussed complex societal issues related to racial and gender stereotypes and body image, and deliberated possible ways to overcome these issues at school, at work, and in the community.

Group activities included watching thematic movies and TED talks and attending campus Dialogues in the Common Good and guest speaker presentations. A subset of the Longman students attended "#LeadLikeAGirl," a motivational conference, on April 6, at the Stuart Country Day School in New Jersey. Several invited guests spoke with the group during Thursday night sessions. Summer Program Director Jim O'Donnell spoke about leading by helping others to succeed, and Head of School Sheila Culbert and Dean of Students Patricia Sasser shared their personal challenges along the path to success and some of their professional experiences as female leaders.

Anya Sastry, a sophomore resident of Longman, said she was inspired by the personal story of achievement shared with the group by Sheila. According to Anya, Sheila expressed gratitude to those who supported her through the challenges she faced in pursuit of higher education and along the trajectory of her professional life.

The year's programming concluded with three capstone projects. A video project called "Hidden Figures of Loomis Chaffee" highlighted the contributions of behind-the-scenes, yet important, Loomis community members. A photo-book project inspired by Strong is the New Pretty featured women and girls in the Loomis community. And an enrichment program helped local middle school girls, following the model of Let Girls Lead, a Norton Fellowship project developed by Sarah Gyurina '18 last summer.

Taking part in the Longman Leadership Institute, according to Anya, helped "further my own ideas and gave me more perspective." She looks forward to serving as a Longman prefect next year and continuing her involvement in the leadership program.

Lillian also looks forward to next year's Longman Leadership Institute, which is fully enrolled. The group's goals next year include hosting a girls' leadership conference at Loomis.

Lillian said she hopes this year's participants came away from the Longman Leadership experience with "open arms and an open mind for future possibilities."