Leadership program helps ATU freshmen connect

Image of ATU Freshman 2021 leadership experience
Participants in the 2021 Arkansas Tech University freshman leadership experience included (front row, left to right) Laken Rudelis from Harrison, Sarah Avey from Timbo, Hayden Eason from Bentonville, Hannah Griggs from Collinsville, Okla. , Bob Cox, director of operations for Loco Ropes at Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Xi Peña Palacios from Springdale, Maddy Hughes from Bentonville; (back row, 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 JW Lewis of Arlington, Texas.

Freshman Hayden Eason from Bentonville came to Arkansas Tech University with leadership traits and a desire to serve others.

His take on what leadership is and how it can maximize its impact on campus was reframed and elevated over a weekend at the ATU Freshman Leadership Experience (FLE).

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

Eason was one of 13 ATU freshmen who signed up to Arkansas Tech FLE from September 17-19. They participated in team-building activities, including a ropes class, 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 a challenge, but she believes Arkansas Tech FLE will be a turning point in her academic and personal success.

“There was no pressure to make friends… all the connections happened naturally,” said Rudelis when asked about the Arkansas Tech FLE. “I think leadership is about working as a team and taking initiative when others don’t want to or don’t know how to do it. It’s about being courageous and self-confident. It’s important to me because I want little girls and boys to admire me. There is still chaos in the world, but I want to be that light and I want to help others. “

Rudelis said the mentors who accompanied ATU freshmen during Arkansas Tech FLE — Kassidy Jones, Civic and Community Engagement and Student Leadership Development Coordinator in the ATU Department of Life on the campus; and Gabi Sowa, graduate assistant for student development leadership in the ATU campus life department — showed her how she can make a positive contribution to the ATU community.

“I really bonded with Gabi because she reminds me so much of how I want to be,” Rudelis said. “I really admire him and Kassidy because they are so nice. I loved this retreat and how down to earth they are. I feel really inspired since we came back to campus. C it’s so easy to take something small and make it important to others. I want to join and create organizations that can influence other people the same way (Arkansas Tech FLE) has influenced me.

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

“I want to learn how to make games, do better at art, and be a better programmer, but I also want to learn how to improve a community,” Eason said. “This community could be as small as a living and learning community in my hall of residence or a university Christian ministry. I look forward to working with others to make sure 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 has helped me see that Arkansas Tech is something much bigger than oneself.

Maddy Hughes, a business management student in Bentonville, is eager to apply 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 anyway to share my experience or learn more,” said Hughes. “Being surrounded by other people who have these same passions is what attracted me (Arkansas Tech FLE). It is always interesting to hear the opinions and perspectives of others. Finding out more about why people think the way they do has been an educational experience for me.

As for Rudelis, now that she has returned from Arkansas Tech FLE, she feels more comfortable in her environment on campus. She attributes her newfound comfort to her willingness to become uncomfortable at first.

“A lot of people might be afraid to do something like this because it can take you so far out of your comfort zone,” Rudelis said. “I think it can be a great experience, especially for introverts. I would say I’m partially introverted and I was shocked at how these people made me feel so comfortable in such a short time. (ATU) feels like such a big campus, but we all have the same goals.

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

“If it’s something you want to do, even if you don’t see yourself as a leader, go for it,” Hughes said. “You are 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 was one of the best memories I have ever had. It’s not just about developing your leadership style. It’s all about gaining those connections. I hope others can find this group of people.

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


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Kevin E. Boling

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