CIEL leadership program gears up at SBC

On a Friday afternoon in early September, the student-run steering committee for Sweet Briar’s new leadership program CIEL met for the first time in Gray 306. CIEL stems from the French word for “sky” and stands for “creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.”

SGA president Katie Craig '16
SGA president Katie Craig ’16

“The way we see it, the sky is the limit for Sweet Briar graduates,” reads a slogan on the program’s website.

SGA president and CIEL executive student director Katie Craig ’16, who created sweetbriarciel.com, shows up armed with a stack of books and a pile of ideas to toss around with the group — among them fellow seniors Torrey Schwartz, Megan Shuford and Emily Dallas, junior Kathleen McGinley and assistant professor of business Tom Loftus.

But first, Loftus opens the meeting with a simple question.

“So, what do we want to do with CIEL?”

Craig responds with what she’s already accomplished — the website, for one, and finding a student to write for it. The program, they all agree, will consist mainly of biweekly lunch meetings that include a speaker and leadership activities. They’ll be recorded and posted on a vlog — a video blog — for students who can’t make it to the meeting.

Environmental science major and SGA secretary Dallas is excited about an activity she found online and volunteers to lead that segment at the first lunch session, which is just days away. Craig gets on the phone immediately to organize a speaker — all committee members agree that it should be someone to do with Saving Sweet Briar — and books SSB founder Tracy Stuart ’93, while Shuford gladly accepts the offer to introduce her. In the meantime, Schwartz and McGinley brainstorm other speakers, and Craig discusses possible reading assignments with Dallas, who also has brought several books on leadership and creativity.

Loftus just sits back, throwing out a question here and there, and lets his students lead. They’re used to it. In addition to heading up various organizations and clubs on campus, three of them participated in CIEL’s predecessor, the Leadership Certificate Program. Now they hope to build on its foundations.

They liked LCP’s leadership conference and its timing in early February, but everyone agrees that it should be a two-day event next time. McGinley will be in charge of planning the conference, which is likely to kick off on a Friday night rather than a Saturday morning, as was the case before. They’re thinking the evening event will make it more appealing to students from other colleges.

Business professor Tom Loftus
Business professor Tom Loftus

Overall, the new program will focus more on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship — after all, CIEL started off without the “L,” before it was clear that LCP director Joan Lucy would not return to Sweet Briar, says Loftus.

“[Spanish instructor] Mike Brunelle and I had begun working on a CIE program, which if you look around the Web are getting very popular,” he says. “When we learned that the LCP program was not going to continue, we discussed the idea of adding leadership. The more we thought about it, the more sense it made, particularly for SBC at this time. We haven’t found many programs yet that consider creativity, innovation and social entrepreneurship as essential elements of leadership, but we think they are.”

CIEL, like the LCP, is a student life program. So far, there are 47 students enrolled in it, including the steering committee — that’s almost 20 percent of Sweet Briar’s undergraduate student body. Participants who complete both years will receive a recognition award at graduation. Eventually, there also may be a leadership certificate students can earn.

“Ultimately, we would like to develop some courses to support the program, so that it has a stronger academic content than LCP did,” Loftus says.

He is working with Brunelle to offer a class possibly as early as next semester.

“[We] are putting together a proposal for a course in Creativity and Innovation, and hope to follow with a course, or courses, about entrepreneurship and leadership,” says Brunelle, who became involved with CIEL because of his creative background — a B.F.A. in printmaking, a master’s degree in design from Pratt Institute, and more than 25 years of experience in product design and development.

“I am not sure of the timing, but things are moving quickly and we have a very engaged and competent group of students leading the way.”