About Leadership, etc.

"Our education system has mined our minds in a way that we strip-mine the earth for a particular commodity. And for the future it won't serve us."

Sir Ken Robinson

In my quest to educate the whole student and cultivate learners with Gardner's Five Minds for the Future I frequently encounter the terms "leadership", "community engagement & service", and "research & creative activity" (Terms). It is not surprising that Terms appear frequently in the websites of higher education institutions: a search of Terms in the website of a top-200 university in the United States yielded 13310, 40813, and 40623 results, respectively for each Term; and a search of Terms in the website of a top-5 university in the United States yielded 371000, 67200, and 38300 results, respectively for each Term. After all, universities practice research & creative activity, implement community engagement & service in teaching and learning, and take pride in cultivating leaders for the world.

A few years ago, I was assigned to teach "Overview of Engineering and Technology" to an incoming class of engineering honours students. Per the university, in addition to the course's content knowledge, honours students in their first semester would learn about the three pathways, (aka Terms) and choose a pathway to structure their curricular and co-curricular activities towards their fourth year project. It is nice that engineering honours students learn about Terms, in addition to their discipline. But, why compartmentalize Terms and have students choose one Term to concentrate on? And why only honours students and not all students?

To reconcile my course's student learning outcomes with Terms I, did what any educator would do: research & creative activity, with depiction of my research findings on the white board, in three different colors. But, creative activity did not show (in me). So, I went to Ted Talks and watched the most popular Talk, "Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?" (please watch this video now, before proceeding). Then, it hit me. I had seen it all in our meetings.

"We identified four themes for our strategic framework. And twelve strategic initiatives. They will guide us forward."

said the President.

"We need to teach creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship."

said the Provost.

"Do you have any data about this proposed innovation? Has anybody tried it?"

asked the Dean.

"How about leadership. You should send your students to the Leadership Development Center. They can get the leadership certificate."

said a Vice President.

"We have our own Leadership Institute."

we responded.

"This is my first year. I need to first find out about our culture, policies, and traditions."

said the new Dean. And so had said the new (at the time) President, during his year-long listening tour.

"How can I reconcile my student learning outcomes with leadership, community engagement & service, and research & creative activity?"

I whispered to my colleague sitting next to me.

"What is the strategic framework and the strategic initiatives?"

he whispered back to me.

". . . grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat . . . so they can go home and write a paper about it."

said Sir Ken Robinson, on minute 10:40 of his presentation.

"I don't need anybody telling me what to do in my class."

grouched a colleague behind me.

I decided to go on a motorcycle-camping trip to the Great Smokie Mountains, part of the Greater Blue Ridge Mountains, a division of the Greatest Appalachian Mountain chain in the United States. I had my tablet notebook with me, so along with the ride I could do research, watch TED Talks, and draw in three different colors. And I continued my trip, in search of answers, to beautiful Kythira, Greece (without the motorcycle). There, one day, while sipping coffee at the café, I asked myself the essential question: "how are leadership, community engagement & service, and research & creative activity related?" And I found the answer. There you go. There are no definitions. Just relationships.

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I used to think: if I could change one thing from the past, that would be the time I found a dollar bill on the street. I would change this to five dollars. Because you can buy a lot more with five dollars than with one. I am writing these words thirty four months after the events I describe. A few days back I tried to connect with Sir Ken Robinson to let him know how much he influenced me and about my Synergies, only to find out he passed on August 21, 2020. I should have contacted him from Kythira, right after I watched his Ted Talk. I wish I had been a student in his class, for just a day.

Dedicated to the memory of Sir Ken Robinson.

Athan Vouzianas

Synergies Project Founder, Partner, and Team Leader;

Renaissance Engineers Founder and Adviser

Email: avouzianas@synergiesproject.com