Leadership Program Helps ATU Freshmen Connect

ATU Freshman Leadership Experience 2021
Participants in the 2021 Arkansas Tech University Freshman Leadership Experience included (front row, from left-to-right) Laken Rudelis of Harrison, Sarah Avey of Timbo, Hayden Eason of Bentonville, Hannah Griggs of Collinsville, Okla., Bob Cox, operations manager for Loco Ropes at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Xi Peña Palacios of Springdale, Maddy Hughes of Bentonville; (back row, from left-to-right) Hayden Collins of Dardanelle, Whitney Fox of Scranton, Kohl Kervin of Benton, Jacob Heffington of Hot Springs, Anthony Perez of Marshall, Zachary Giese of Vilonia and J.W. Lewis of Arlington, Texas.

Freshman Hayden Eason of Bentonville arrived at Arkansas Tech University with leadership traits and a desire to serve others.

His perspective on what leadership is and how he can maximize his impact on campus was reframed and elevated over the course of one weekend at the ATU Freshman Leadership Experience (FLE).

“When you hear leadership, you think about names like Martin Luther King Jr. or perhaps the president,” said Eason. “But a leader can be someone who just takes the first step in making someone feel better about themselves or someone who takes the first step in a group project. You don’t have to do something big to be considered a leader. You just have to take that first step.”

Eason was one of 13 ATU freshmen who engaged in the Arkansas Tech FLE Sept. 17-19. They participated in team-building activities, including a ropes course, and learned more about themselves through a series of personality tests and self-awareness exercises.

Laken Rudelis is an ATU elementary education major from Harrison. She said being away from home and finding her place in a new environment has been challenging, but she believes the Arkansas Tech FLE will be a turning point in her academic and personal success.

“There was no pressure to make friends…all the connections just happened naturally,” said Rudelis when asked about Arkansas Tech FLE. “I think leadership is about teamwork and taking the initiative when others don’t want to or don’t know how to. It’s about being brave and confident in yourself. That’s important to me because I want little girls and little boys to look up to me. There is always chaos in the world, but I want to be that light and I want to help others.”

Rudelis said the mentors who accompanied the ATU freshmen during Arkansas Tech FLE — Kassidy Jones, coordinator of civic and community engagement and student leadership development in the ATU Department of Campus Life; and Gabi Sowa, graduate assistant for student development leadership in the ATU Department of Campus Life — showed her how she can make positive contributions to the ATU community.

“I really bonded with Gabi because she reminds me so much of how I want to be,” said Rudelis. “I really look up to her and Kassidy because they are so kind. I loved this retreat and how down-to-Earth they are. I’ve been feeling really inspired since we came back to campus. It’s so easy to take something small and make it mean to so much to other people. I want to join and create organizations that can influence other individuals in the same way (Arkansas Tech FLE) influenced me.”

Eason is majoring in game and interactive media design at ATU. Like Rudelis, he wants his college education to include lessons learned beyond the classroom.

“I want to learn about making games, how to do better in art and how to be a better programmer, but I also want to learn how to make a community better,” said Eason. “That community could be as small as a living and learning community in my residence hall or a college Christian ministry. I’m looking forward to working with others to ensure that Arkansas Tech can be the best place for those of us who are already here and those who will come after us. The self-awareness that I developed at Freshman Leadership Experience helped me see that Arkansas Tech is something much bigger than oneself.”

Maddy Hughes, a business management student from Bentonville, is looking forward to applying the leadership lessons she learned at Arkansas Tech FLE by exploring on-campus employment opportunities as a resident assistant.

“I’ve always been interested in leadership and any way that I can share my experience or learn more,” said Hughes. “Being surrounded by other people who have those same passions is what drew me to (Arkansas Tech FLE). It is always interesting to hear other people’s opinions and perspectives. Learning more about why people think the way they do was an educational experience for me.”

As for Rudelis, now that she has returned from Arkansas Tech FLE she is feeling more at home in her on-campus surroundings. She attributes her new-found comfort to her willingness to first become uncomfortable.

“A lot of people might be scared to do something like this because it can get you so far out of your comfort zone,” said Rudelis. “I think this can be a great experience, specifically for introverts. I would say that I am partially an introvert, and I was shocked by the way these people made me feel so comfortable in such a short amount of time. (ATU) feels like such a big campus, but we’re all really just striving for the same goals.”

Hughes has a message for Arkansas Tech freshmen in fall 2022 and beyond who will be presented with the opportunity to engage in leadership programs such as Arkansas Tech FLE.

“If it’s something you feel like you want to do, even if you don’t view yourself as a leader, go for it,” said Hughes. “You’re going to meet so many new people. My roommate at (Arkansas Tech FLE) and I went to a ministry together when we got back, and it’s one of the best memories I’ve had. It’s not just a matter of developing your leadership style. It’s a matter of gaining those connections. I hope others are able to find that group of people.”

Learn more about ATU student leadership programs at www.atu.edu/campuslife.