Ivana founded Leaders UNITE over seven years ago, after attending a week-long leadership program. Ivana graduated from Duke University in May 2019, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a BS in Biology, a BA in Spanish, and a minor in chemistry. Ivana returned to Duke in Fall 2020 to begin her first year of medical school at Duke University School of Medicine, where she will pursue her goal of becoming a cardiologist. Here is a brief excerpt from Ivana about why she founded Leaders UNITE and why she is so passionate about leadership for students:
Whenever someone asks me what inspired me to start Leaders UNITE, I talk about my desire to suppress the typical leadership stereotypes: that leadership is boring and that only talkative, assertive people can become successful leaders. However, I always find myself regressing to the same example. When I was a Peer Leader at the Shelton Leadership Challenge, I had one boy in my group who was extremely quiet and spent the first two days eating, walking, and mumbling by himself. As a Peer Leader, it was my job to be a liaison between the students and the counselor. I spent time talking to the boy, but he kept saying that he wouldn’t make a good leader and that the other students would just continue to laugh at him. He was terrified for the next day, where he was one of the assigned leaders. During the next day, the boy started out unable to speak a word; however, during our third activity, the boy finally opened his mouth. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but I do remember that it had everyone laughing like crazy for the next few minutes. Only they weren’t laughing at him, they were laughing with him. The boy has an impeccable sense of humor! As we were walking to our next activity, I told the boy to use his witty personality to lead the group. By the end of the day, he had made ten new friends and was one of the group.
Situations like these inspire me to spread Leaders UNITE to as many locations as possible. The club prides itself on helping students become leaders- no matter their personality type. The five step process- understanding, nourishing, incorporating, teaching, and excelling- allows students to use their own personality as a strength and they are encouraged to feel comfortable being themselves. They are given opportunities to communicate with students from other schools, lead their own volunteer projects, listen to guest speakers, participate in club activities and discussions, and much more. The multifaceted nature of the club is what allows it to succeed. Every week, I seek the smile on students’ faces when they receive Compliment Cards from their teachers and friends. The gratitude continues when we perform for the residents of local retirement homes, where they thank us for visiting them when their families are out of town. Watching the children at the elementary school try to spell “resident” and put all of their effort into their glitter cards is all the more rewarding when the retirement home residents receive these cards and hang them up in their rooms. Hearing that one of the first members of my club had finally built up the confidence to run for a Student Council position made me feel proud of how my club had helped her grow in her public speaking abilities. Even watching the students participate in an organized discussion during club time and being considerate of one another’s opinions brings a smile to my face.
Although I created Leaders UNITE to help other students develop their own leadership skills, I never realized how much I would learn about myself from this project. I am a dreamer. I am a goal-oriented person, and I always set my goals high. But, I knew all of that before I started Leaders UNITE. What I have learned from starting the club is that I love the little things. I take the time to remember every moment and gratuitous feeling that happens to me throughout the day. I go out of my way to ask other how they are feeling and do everything I can to help others. I gain my positive energy from the smiles and impact I make throughout my day. And although I set many high goals for myself, I stay leveled by my appreciation of everything I can do to help other people. The experiences that Leaders UNITE has provided me have brought a sense of balance to my life, and I now realize that the club helps me just as much as it helps my students.