Engaging Co-Curricular Student Leadership at James Madison University

May 29, 2024

My journey with the Interactivity Foundation began in a James Madison University communication studies class called Facilitation and Deliberation. Dr. Lori Britt, who led the course, offered us the opportunity to earn a Certificate in Collaborative Discussion from the Interactivity Foundation. I immediately saw its potential to benefit students across campus.

After earning the certificate, I was invited by the Interactivity Foundation to dive deeper and become their first student coach. We discussed how I could use the Collaborative Discussion Toolkit and create my own certificate program focused on leadership development and facilitator training. With their support, I embarked on a unique coaching adventure, facilitating two programs for different groups and co-coaching a third one for a professor’s class—the same professor who first introduced me to the toolkit!

My first coaching experience came in Fall 2022 with JMU’s Outriggers Program, a student-led initiative that aims to offer peer-led facilitation support to other student groups and organizations. I offered a certificate program to this cohort of student leaders focused on facilitation techniques and modeling collaborative participation behaviors. This was perfect for a group who already knew each other well.

This familiarity created a comfortable atmosphere for activities that challenge preconceived notions and even delve into taboo topics. One unexpected outcome was how these exercises deepened the participants’ existing relationships as they explored challenges together. I was also surprised by the natural flow between activities. During scenario work for toolkit activity 3.6, Anticipating Implications and (Un)intended Consequences, participants seamlessly applied skills from previous exercises—mapping complexities, better question-asking, and acknowledging diverse perspectives—in a way that seemed almost intuitive. The program fostered a stronger sense of community within the leadership cohort, honed their facilitation skills, and ultimately made them more aware individuals.

Spring 2023 brought a completely different experience with James Madison University’s Pathfinder Program. Here, the participants were paid student leaders providing one-on-one and small-group leadership training to other students. Unlike the established Outriggers organization, they were essentially building their program from the ground up. This group lacked the pre-existing relationships of the Outriggers, and their focus was on facilitation training, leadership development, and team building.

We used different activities from the Collaborative Discussion Toolkit to create a unique certificate program that included more opportunities for collaboration through partnered reflections. This allowed participants to understand each other’s thought processes and build familiarity without resorting to generic icebreaker activities. By the program’s end, I saw them move beyond pleasantries and engage in meaningful check-ins. They were actively figuring out ways to support each other’s tasks, transforming from a collection of individuals into a true team.

One of my favorite starting points is toolkit activity 2.5, Cultivating a Willingness to Play. It was particularly effective in this program, and by the final activity, I witnessed a significant increase in openness and comfort among the participants, not just with each other but also with me as their coach.

The Collaborative Discussion Toolkit and certificate programs provide a structured yet adaptable skill-building and relationship-building framework. Over two years, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with four Collaborative Discussion Certificate Programs, witnessing unique outcomes with each cohort. Even for students who chose to participate only for class credit or job requirements, I saw them grow as individuals, and the program positively impacted the James Madison University community.

I am confident the skills they learned will continue to benefit them in their daily lives. The Collaborative Discussion Toolkit empowers individuals to better understand themselves and the world around them. As a Fall 2022 program participant shared, “The Outriggers Certificate Program enhanced my ability to display empathy, kindness, inclusivity, and compassion. It is a program that has forever changed my outlook on the people around me.”

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