Dr. Kaitlin Wolfert is the Coordinator for The Center for Student Achievement at Penn State Abington and Adjunct Instructor at Cabrini University's Master of Science in Leadership. In May, she will be graduating from Eastern University with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Organizational Leadership. Dr. Wolfert's dissertation examined the influence of The Collegiate Leadership Competition and its three programmatic elements of action learning, coaching, and intrapersonal reflection on individual resilience.
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What is the Collegiate Leadership Competiton?
Collegiate Leadership Competition (CLC), a nonprofit founded in 2015, creates a digital practice field where students can actively apply what they learn via CLC’s global virtual competition.
Colleges and universities identify a coach and recruit teams of six students. Any student interested in practicing leadership is welcome. Throughout the experience, each team member leads one challenge and receives extensive feedback based on their performance.
The competition begins in January. Competition activities occur via Zoom. The top 25 teams with the highest cumulative point total after the first four challenges compete in the global head-to-head in April.
CLC’s curriculum explores the attributes of effective leaders, leadership/followership styles, creative problem solving, influencing others, navigating difficult conversations, conflict resolution, delegation, stressors, and effective teaming.
Academic Articles About the Collegiate Leadership Competition
Resource Mentioned In This Episode
Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate.
Scott Allen 0:49
Okay, everybody, we are in this week of the Collegiate Leadership Competition. Today we're talking with Kaitlin Wolfert and she is the coordinator for the Center for Student Achievement at Penn State Abington. And she's an adjunct faculty member at Cabrini University's Master of Science and leadership. She literally just finished I think it was about last week, Kaitlin, I sat in on your dissertation defense, which was exciting. Congratulations.
Kaitlin Wolfert 1:16
Thank you so much.
Scott Allen 1:17
Yes, yes. And so you did your research on CLC collegiate leadership competition. And we're very, very excited today to have that conversation, and learn a little bit more about what you found out. But before we do that, maybe you share a little bit with our listeners, about you.
Kaitlin Wolfert 1:39
Yeah, absolutely. So as you mentioned, I'm the coordinator for the Center for Student Achievement at Penn State Abington, formerly known as the Learning Center. So on receiving this role, I really wanted to shift the perception and the reputation of the Learning Center to be one, instead of where students go to when they're struggling to go, where they want to experience growth, whether that be academically socially, emotionally, mentally, and so forth. So my passion is helping individuals see their ability to make a positive difference in the world by you know, believing in their ability to be a leader, I wasn't somebody that envisioned myself as a leader or being in the front of a group of people. But when I learned about servant leadership, I really latched on to the idea, of working with a group of people towards a common goal. So that's, that's a little bit about me.
Scott Allen 2:37
I love it. I too had a similar mindset. Moving into my collegiate experience, I never thought of myself as a leader. I never thought of myself as someone who could lead a group. And so the collegiate context was a transformational time for me. And I just have great respect for what you're doing that how do we shift the perception so that this is a place for growth? and thriving, maybe even? Right,
Kaitlin Wolfert 3:04
Right! Absolutely. Yeah.
Scott Allen 3:06
Talk a little bit about your research on the collegiate leadership competition. And maybe we even just start off with a couple of stories. What were a couple of conversations that you had, that will just stick with you?
Kaitlin Wolfert 3:18
Yeah, I was especially drawn to students who were very anxious about even experiencing the CLC. From the beginning, you know, whether it was the idea of working with a group of people that took them outside of their comfort zone or the idea of a competition to them outside their comfort zone. You know, hearing the hesitancy that people had for a variety of different reasons for even engaging was really impactful to me because again, that's something that I could relate to,
Scott Allen 3:50
well, you just said something that really made me think of something, Caitlyn, because I think I was at a session about 2006, with Ron Heifetz at Harvard. And he said, You know, I'm not going to pretend that leadership is easy, or happy or fun, or it's all about warm fuzzies chocolate bars and tulips all of the time. It's, my students are going back to places all over the world where it's not that and we can't pretend that, that it's all positive. It's their stress, their struggle, there's a challenge, there's conflict. So I think one thing with the CLC we've tried to do it in a safe way, for listeners in a safe way, elevate that level of stress a little bit so that it gets a little bit more real for people. It's not just us sitting and talking about this concept. It's no you're experiencing the stressor now, and can you display emotional intelligence through that stressor? Right. So I love what you just said about even the hesitancy that people kind of feel before entering into something like this.
Kaitlin Wolfert 4:51
Right Absolutely. And that's why I was drawn to use the CLC. In my research, to begin with, I knew for certain that I wanted To pursue the topic of youth leadership development as my dissertation topic, but when I learned about the collegiate leadership competition and the fact that there are these stressors that make the leadership simulation, so real, I knew that it was the perfect, you know, platform to use in understanding the influence of resilience or leadership development on resilience, which is ultimately what my dissertation topic was. So hearing about these different instances in students, where they felt uncomfortable and persevered through the program, because of the safety and the support that they felt, whether from their teammates or the coaches was a perfect platform for them to test these different competencies, and, you know, learn about capabilities they never knew that they had, or even just learning about, you know, maybe they picture themselves as a really strong leader, but they, they found out that they need to hold back a little bit more and play the role of that, again, that servant leader to encourage their teammates to step forward and really just understanding the influence that they have, whether that being a traditional leadership role, or in another role that they played within that group.
Scott Allen 6:16
Yes, because we see that happen a lot. And you've seen this, you've witnessed this, even as a coach where you may have a participant who is that person who has always just extroverted and defaulted into that leader role. And this experience can be wonderful for them to be more aware and more intentional of their own behavior when they need to slow down pause. And they need to shift gears into that follower role. Because that's what's required in the situation. Right. So that intentionality is something that is just so much fun. And I said it on another podcast recently, the chasm between what people know, because they know the content, but actually bringing them to a place where they can behave in a way that is informed and intentional. That's a chasm. It's hard. So what did you find? What do you find? What were some interesting things that bubbled up for you?
Kaitlin Wolfert 7:13
One of the themes that arose was comfort zone. So regardless of whether it was, you know, before they even started, or some activity along the way, it was really important for all of the participants to feel uncomfortable, because that's where they experienced their growth, they began to see these uncomfortable moments as learning opportunities. And they were even so inspired by their discomfort that they continued to remove themselves from their comfort zones after participating, which was just so wonderful to hear. Another area was interpersonal and interpersonal development, you know, really learning how to work with diverse groups of people to advocate for themselves to express empathy. You know, the team component, and team emphasis of the CLC, again, is such a huge asset, because it's only with those groups of people that they can practice those leadership competencies, you can't like you said, you can learn about it in a book, but being able to practice them with other people that you might not necessarily agree with, or get along with is the is what's going to ultimately give you the confidence to continue to exhibit those competencies out in in the real world. I'm using air quotes. Yeah, those are some of the findings. And then ultimately, the internal and external resilience. What I identified, you know, the internal resilience was different ways that they were conceptualizing challenges and external resilience were the different ways they were actualizing, that resilience, like taking on leadership positions, or putting forth ideas on their campuses that they wouldn't normally have put forward otherwise. And then internally, they were thinking about problems more analytically. They were getting less emotionally invested in challenges that they were facing, and really emphasizing the importance of using creativity and flexibility in their thought process when they do encounter challenges.
Scott Allen 9:16
Well, and that's you said a couple of things in there that stood out for me. So the advocating for self. And I'm sure you've seen this, I see it every season that I engage in this in this program, that you have an individual in the group who may be a little more introverted, a little bit more shy, and the group's kind of beginning some type of activity, and they make a comment. And that comment is the right answer. That comment is the solution. But everyone is so busy, they, you know, they're they're like working busily and they look up and they look back down and continue to work busily. And that person had the answer and it's so beautiful, Kaitlin, when someone gets to a point, especially towards April, right, because the season is January through April, especially towards April, where that individual, we've gotten them to a point where they will say, Stop, wait, we need to consider this. And they, they, the group pauses and looks up and actually internalizes that comment and actually takes it in and maybe even shifts their behavior. But that advocating for self and ensuring that I'm being heard in this moment. And again, for people who tend to jump in or maybe prefer extraversion, their challenge is to slow down and pause and listen. And for others who might be reflective and contemplate ever maybe prefer introversion, and maybe aren't the people putting themselves out there, that can be an edge for them, that can be a growth area for them. And then of you, as you said, the problem-solving component of all of this, even for me as a coach, and as a person who's engaged in the curriculum, it's that mindset of there has to be a better way there has to be a solution here, there has to be something that I'm not seeing as a path forward. Because this is frustrating. This isn't working. And that's a mindset, right?
Kaitlin Wolfert 11:14
Yep Absolutely. Yeah. Yep.
Scott Allen 11:16
Yeah. A couple of other things that you saw, what were some other things that stood out for you maybe even a couple stories from participants that will stick with you,
Kaitlin Wolfert 11:25
There was one student who,
Scott Allen 11:28
and these were alarms at this point, correct?
Some of them are alumns. Yep. Some of them are alums. One younger participant who was a first-year student, he, you know, felt very lost at his university and didn't really have a sense of community. But the CLC was completely transformative for him in building that community, helping him feel confident enough to take on leadership roles on his campus. After our interview, he was interviewing to be head Orientation Leader, he just could not say enough kind things about his coaches, and just the positive influence that the program had on his ability to feel really a part of his campus community, another student came from Maine, and she talked about applying for a very prestigious graduate program in Austin and how she was waitlisted. And that in and of itself was uncomfortable for her because she wasn't used to that, you know, not necessarily getting something that she just puts her hard work into, and then experiencing that grad program remotely in a very diverse climate in which she, you know, in our conversations, I asked students about how recent events and I recently, I very purposely left it vague, I asked how recent events have impacted the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they gained from the CLC. And so some students would say, Are you talking about COVID? I was like I'm whatever it is that's influencing, is there anything that's influencing you, and this particular student talked about, you know, the racial climate and how she felt like she had kind of pushed herself outside of her comfort zone in that respect, but that this program has really pushed her further. So that's yet another student who has opted to remain outside of her comfort zone, and is just really trying very hard to keep herself uncomfortable the comfort of others. So every student was, you know, at some point in our conversation was very influential to me, and it was just a just such a rewarding interview process.
Well, as you think about what you heard, and even in your own experience, are there things that the CLC needs to have on its radar? What? How do we get further faster? Was there anything that bubbled up that we can't just look at this only as a glowing experience for participants? Were there things that came up that the organization should have on its radar? Does anything come to mind on that front?
Kaitlin Wolfert 14:08
Great question. Well, some of the recommendations that I provided for future practice, for the field, we're just highlighting some of the great things that the CLC already does. So the six-person group size is so so critical because there was no place for individuals to hide, you know, you really had to confront conflict head-on and you had to be prepared to engage in meaningful feedback. So that's huge. But in terms of potential suggestions for the future, I would say, you know, maybe solidifying and I know some institutions already do this, but solidifying a kind of peer coach position as like the next level for continued involvement with the program might be something to consider And then what I, what I thought would happen from some of the questions in terms of I asked about interpersonal reflection from the program. And most of the participants really focused on the debrief after each exercise. But in my mind, I thought, the CLC really see integrated reflective components at the end of the competition, and then encouraged the coaches to bring everybody together after competition to engage in more reflection, that didn't necessarily seem to be the case. So I think really emphasizing the need for that reflective component. So that it just kind of ingrains everything that students learned on a deeper level, and solidifies it, you know, the people that talked about how the CLC was in the format of a class, and they had to write a reflection paper seem to be able to recall more specific instances, you know, that was influential, you know, some of the CLC terms that were influential. So creating that more structured feedback or reflection opportunity, I think, would be a really great learning opportunity for participants.
Scott Allen 16:10
I can't agree more, that's always my favorite. Because the day of the competition, it's such a whirlwind, that there's, it can be difficult to get a quality reflection, but my favorite meeting of the whole season was always, at the end, a couple of weeks after the competition, when we could all gather for maybe an hour, hour and a half and just laugh. And I've never had a team that won except for the first year when there were two teams. So as, as our good friend Luigi PEGORARO are oftentimes lead judge, he says, you know, there are winners, and there's learners, and most of us are learners, if not all of us, almost all of us. You know, because the competition is just an excuse to create a practice field, it's just an excuse, to practice. That's always my favorite meeting. Because we sit down, we think of all of these really interesting puzzles and situations we found ourselves in and other weird things that we did, collectively or individually, and you just laugh and you reflect, and you make meaning and you make sense. And some of the days was a struggle and challenging for all involved for the coaches, for the players, for the participants, it can be a very, very, it's the day can be an emotional roller coaster, because it's up and down. But that reflection, I love what you're saying there. Because without that, if we don't have that at the end, and we aren't connecting that dot, it's a missed opportunity. It's a really, really, it's just a missed opportunity
Kaitlin Wolfert 17:36
Yeah, and not only that, the program goes so fast between the weekly, you know, practice sessions in competition, and then all of a sudden it's over. And you're right, there is a lot of emotion that goes and energy that goes into that competition that I remember people being exhausted afterwards. So to have that, yeah, to have that structured reflection would be great. Oh, and also, you know, as a former coach, I always just really wanted that next level of competition. So the winners from each region coming together for another level of competition would be so amazing.
Scott Allen 18:15
Yes. It's on the radar. It's on the radar. So maybe, maybe we have I think it's for sure virtual one more year. And, and then, you know, it may be that it's virtual for a portion of the competition. And then teams that get to a certain point, or maybe representatives from different countries would come together. I don't know, like an association with the international leadership Association Conference, or the Association of leadership educators or the management and organizational behavior, teaching society, some conference where a lot of people are, but then there could be a quote-unquote, finals, we'd have to figure out the details and logistics of all of that. But yes, that would be so much fun, right? That the intergalactic championships or something like that...
Kaitlin Wolfert 19:02
running against the end of the school year. But I think if teams were progressing, they would be motivated to continue competing.
Yes, yes. And that the conferences that are in the summer would make the most sense, then, because waiting till November of the following year would be a challenge logistically unless we shift the whole thing. But I think it's really interesting, it's been an interesting experiment. And that's really what it has been. It was Arthur Schwartz. You know, he said it beautifully. He said, Why do people practice they practice to compete or to perform? And that's the excuse for getting people together and trying to build skill. Did participants in your research talk at all about that, that they felt like skills?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the variety of the problem-solving activities was really helpful in again, bringing some students, it really highlighted some strengths. And some students and others were felt completely out of their element. But then it like it taught them something new about themselves. A lot of students, you know, reflected on the curriculum, the terms themselves did not stick with them, as long as they probably should have. But again, I was interviewing them over a year after they had a year and a half after they had participated. So some of the terms stuck with them, some of them didn't. It's interesting that you brought up the competition because while they all highlighted, it's very interesting, they all highlighted the same two challenging activities. And they all came from with the exception of two people, they all came from separate teams. They, they spoke about the experience as a whole more in terms of their development and their growth. So it wasn't necessarily the fact that there had to be a competition for them to experience that skill development, it was definitely something that progressed over the course of the program. And as they had more opportunities to practice those competencies with their teammates. So the competition was definitely a pinnacle for heightened emotions and something for them to work towards. But the growth and the skills that they experienced were definitely the longevity over the course of the entire program.
Scott Allen 21:30
Well, Kaitlin, what I'm excited to hear now and talk about for the time that we have left is, what are some overall reflections, and I'm jumping this on you. So I didn't tell you, we were gonna go here, as you think about just engaging in the process of earning your doctorate earning your Ph.D. Are there any reflections that you have? Because of you, I mean, literally, it's a week ago,
Kaitlin Wolfert 21:53
Yes, two weeks tomorrow!
Scott Allen 21:56
So it's fresh? What are some reflections just on that whole? That whole process? Because I know, there are listeners who are thinking, you know, should I do that? Is that something I'd love to do? Is that something I'd be interested in doing getting my Ph.D.,
Kaitlin Wolfert 22:09
So many thoughts in my whole acknowledgments page was all about running because I'm a runner, and at my first residency, they said, it's a marathon, not a sprint. And that really resonated with me. And boy, is that the truth, you certainly have to be prepared for the long haul. And hopefully, you're in a program that allows you the option of what you're going to study, I was lucky enough that I was that they really helped me fine-tune what my passion was. And so as hard as this journey has been, I can't, I can't speak highly enough about what an honor it is to be able to contribute something meaningful to, you know, the Academy to just research about resilience and leadership development in general. So I just feel right now, now that it's over, extremely privileged and, and joyful about the opportunity that I've had, but it is, it's not easy. It's definitely something that you will not, at the end of the day, look back and say, that was a cakewalk. It was a piece of cake. You know it, I feel like I earned it. I did earn it. It's very rewarding, but it's also very, very challenging. And there, there will be obstacles. But you can do it. If I can do it, you can do it.
Scott Allen 23:36
Well, I attended a program as well, that allowed me to really tap into just where I have jet fuel, the whole topic of leader development, how do we do it better? How do we, how do we conceptualize it? How do we approach that work in a more disciplined manner? And I just had so much endless energy for that topic. And I feel so lucky that I that space had been created for me to tap into that, right, it had it been a different situation where I am now for me, you know, doing the research of this person and helping them. You know, of course, if that was a topic I was incredibly passionate about that would have been fine. But I really loved the setup. For me, it was Antioch university where they created the space. And then I was allowed to tap in and go and learn. And I just had so much energy for that process and that way of learning. I mean, it was incredible. It sounds like you're
Kaitlin Wolfert 24:38
having a supportive chair and a supportive committee is invaluable it is it really helps the process, especially when you have to shift because there's a pandemic going on. keep things fresh and exciting.
Scott Allen 24:55
You know, those are two great, great points to I think probably my second or third interview on this podcast was Jon Wergin, and he was my dissertation chair. And just, I'll never forget, I was sitting at a residency in a cafeteria. And I was so frustrated because I couldn't understand what he and my primary advisor Richard Kudo, were asking me to do. And I had tears, right.
Kaitlin Wolfert 25:20
Yes! There are always tears...
Scott Allen 25:24
I just don't get this. What are you asking me to do? The support in the care and the love, you know that that they had to guide me through that process was it was invaluable. It really was. It was invaluable. And I behind me, I have a butterfly that john, that john gave me as a gift when I finished the program. And you know, that's not something he had to do. It's but there's genuine, authentic care and love for taking people through the process. I think of a person with a lantern walking through the dark. Is there anything that's come across your, your plate recently, it doesn't have to have anything to do with leadership that you've been streaming, listening to reading anything that listeners would like to learn about,
Kaitlin Wolfert 26:17
I feel like listeners probably already know, but just in case they don't, I'm a huge Brene Brown fan. So I have faithfully been listening to her podcasts on my run, both dare to lead and unlocking us. And I just, I love the way she engages in conversation with people like she's not shying away from the tough conversations and yet, so they're kind of uncomfortable, but you also feel extremely comfortable in the presence of whoever she's talking to. And with her and I just, I feel like she's wrapping me in a warm hug. Good vibes good feeling. So I actually listened to her when I go running. And I'm also reading some of her books. So I'm a big fan.
Scott Allen 27:01
Oh, she's great. I have not listened to either one of those podcasts. But I will do so for sure. That was a great way of describing how awesome it is. It's like being wrapped in a warm hug that said no one ever about a podcast until listening to Brene Brown!
Kaitlin Wolfert 27:16
Scott Allen 27:20
Kaitlin we really, really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for stopping by quote-unquote, and sharing your experiences. Where can people learn a little bit more about your work?
Kaitlin Wolfert 27:32
So I am on LinkedIn. So first name Caitlyn. Last name, Wolfert. And I'm also on Instagram, kay rose w 742.
Scott Allen 27:42
Great, great. And the dissertation, where can we find that? Is is that out in the world yet?
Kaitlin Wolfert 27:49
I published it to ProQuest and paid that extra, okay, so people could actually search for it and read it.
Scott Allen 27:59
Someone will read it?!
Kaitlin Wolfert 28:00
Please, please go read it. And I believe if you're if you are a member of the Eastern University community, you can access it through the library as well. And then or come visit my house, I will have a hardbound copy of it sitting on my couch.
Scott Allen 28:18
Yes. Well, it was funny because I wrote mine, I believe it was 2005. And it was the first time ever, and this person's probably listening. So if you are you know who you are. But for the first time ever I had someone randomly out of the blue say I read your dissertation.
Kaitlin Wolfert 28:36
Scott Allen 28:43
Well, thank you for the work that you do. Congratulations on achieving your doctorate.
Kaitlin Wolfert 28:48
Thank you so much.
Scott Allen 28:49
And that's resilience right there. So
Kaitlin Wolfert 28:53
Scott Allen 28:55
I was a fun conversation with Kaitlin. She's doing incredible work. And the practical wisdom for me here is whether it's qualitative research or quantitative research. We can get data on our programming. And that's something we've really built into the process from the very beginning of the collegiate leadership competition. We wanted to do research on this work. We've partnered with Dave rush at the University of Illinois. We have a paper ready for submission, another paper that has been published and we've worked to do some writing on this topic. So we can learn, we can adjust, we can shift. If Kaitlyn suggested that maybe people aren't remembering some of the content a year later. What can we do to shift how we communicate the curriculum? That's just one example. That's the practical wisdom for me. Are we looking at our programming through a number of different lenses, rigorous lenses, and adjusting and informing our future behavior based on Some of what we've learned. If you want to learn more www dot collegiate leader.org, the global finals, the intergalactic competition will be held on April 10 for 2021. And as I said before, I think we'll have the winning team on to just get some of their reflections. Maybe we'll record that reflection time that they have together for a future episode so you can peer in on what they're experiencing. Take care everybodyand be well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai