Barry McNamara  |   Published July 26, 2018

Learning leadership

Smithhisler enhances her skills at prestigious Mount Vernon institute
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Immersed in a highly selective summer institute with other talented rising college juniors, Monmouth College’s Hadley Smithhisler learned a lot about her herself and about leadership.

“Leadership can be quiet or loud,” she said, after spending six weeks at the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Through her participation in the College’s Stockdale Leadership Fellows program, Smithhisler was already starting to figure out that her quiet personality didn’t preclude her from being a leader. Spending time with other strong students from across the country allowed her to observe their various leadership styles.

“The leaders from Mount Vernon, Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area that I met all shared one piece of advice in common: that young leaders and professionals should take risks and be poised to seize opportunities that are interesting and rewarding, rather than sticking to a rigid five- or 10-year plan,” she said. “I also have an even greater sense that leadership occurs at different moments and in different ways for different people. Anyone with any personality can be a leader so long as they are passionate.”

Smithhisler is taking that lesson to heart.

“The six weeks at Mount Vernon were an intense period of personal growth,” she said. “I now have a clearer sense of purpose and sense of self. I feel empowered to lead exactly as I am.”

The 16 fellows in Virginia represented “every type of college – the Ivy League, state schools with 30,000-plus students, small liberal arts schools – and all kinds of majors and every geographic area of the U.S.,” said Smithhisler. “However, we were all connected by our interest in public service. … It was refreshing being able to learn from students who are equally busy, involved and passionate about leadership and making their corner of the world a better place.”

The Mount Vernon program has three pillars – the historical study of George Washington, leadership development and a capstone project. For her capstone, Smithhisler designed an “actionable plan” to create a conference for sixth-grade girls in the Monmouth community that will be hosted by the College.

“The conference will allow these girls to interact with female students, faculty and staff at Monmouth in a way that will grow their confidence and curiosity,” she said. “I’m imagining that girls will participate in mini-workshops and activities related to positive self-talk, confidence building, leadership, women in politics, women in STEM, etc.”

Smithhisler hopes to “hit the ground running” with the project when she returns to campus in August. She hopes to have the first conference in the fall, although the fall of 2019 is her backup plan. Smithhisler will study abroad in the spring of 2019.

“The MVLF program and the capstone project taught me how to not only identify problems in my community but to really think about them and fix them,” she said. “I’m hoping that through my capstone project and my involvement on campus I will be able to impact Monmouth positively. I intend to collaborate more with my peers, speak up more and empower others.”

A history and French major from Valley City, N.D., Smithhisler is already very active on campus. She serves as president of Rotoract, secretary of Blue Key and secretary/editor of the College’s Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research. She hopes to enter law school after Monmouth.

“I would highly recommend the Mount Vernon program to any sophomore that has an interest in leadership, history, public service, politics, nonprofit work or related fields,” she said. “I have every intention of creating a ‘dynasty’ of Mount Vernon Fellows from Monmouth College.”
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