A New (and Younger) Generation of Student Leaders
Sophomore Katie Liberton is a C.R.E.W. orientation leader this year, helping new students get accustomed to Widener. But in a lot of ways, Liberton feels like a new student herself, having spent most of her freshman year attending classes remotely.
In fact, when she was asked to give a campus tour to first-year students, Liberton realized she only knew Kirkbride Hall because labs in Kirkbride were the only in-person academic experience the biomedical engineering major had in 2020-21.
“I felt silly being a sophomore and not knowing anything,” said Liberton, but added that the process of helping freshmen acclimate to campus did the same for her.
Like most of her class, Liberton spent her inaugural year at Widener almost entirely remote due to the pandemic. But the sophomore is part of a strong group of younger students who have emerged as campus leaders despite their unusual start (or perhaps because of it) and the ongoing uncertainty presented by a global pandemic.
“Freshmen and sophomores are eager to get their college experience going. We’re seeing these open positions and we’re taking them,” said Zoe Sweet ‘25, who was helping run events her third week at Widener and whose long list of organizations includes Student Government Association (SGA), and the executive boards of Pride Activities Council (PAC), and the Mock Trial club.
Members of the Classes of 2024 and 2025 had disrupted high school experiences, with some losing out on seminal moments like proms, class trips, and graduations. Eager to bounce back, these students have stepped up and stepped in to campus leadership roles, helping to direct and drive programming and activities.
“I had planned to be involved in college, but not that involved. And then COVID hit,” said Lizzy Lynch ’24, an outgoing person who found herself stuck at home on Zoom her first year at Widener.
Lynch began to make plans to intentionally meet people when in-person classes resumed, and now in her sophomore year, physically on campus, she is part of PAC, co-coordinator of this year’s Courage Week, and is serving as a resident assistant – even though it’s her first year living on campus.
We kind of had that high school experience taken away from us. I asked a ton of people for college advice and they said ‘get involved.’ I took that very literally. — Lizzy Lynch '24
Living through a pandemic has taught these young leaders that the future is uncertain and unpredictable.
“We realize this could all be taken away very quickly. There’s a lot of ‘seizing the day,’ and that will probably go on for years after this is all over,” said Carter Taylor ’24, an SGA senator, executive board member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and member of the Black Student Union.
It’s important to remember, said Ben Rahm ’24, that leadership positions at Widener are not reserved for older students. “You can get involved as early as possible and be in a leadership role. You just have to be willing to put yourself out there,” said the SGA senator.
Taylor believes the drive to be involved is a hallmark of his generation, and younger leaders bring fresh eyes and unique perspectives to campus.
Jeanine Snow-Gephart agrees. The executive director of campus engagement and student programs says members of the Classes of 2024 and 2025 are not holding back on taking chances to get involved.
“They are going after the things they truly want on campus and letting their voices be heard through the process,” said Snow-Gephart. “They are actively working to create community, be engaged, and are making an impact inside and outside of the classroom. They have stepped up to lead and shape the future of what engagement looks like at Widener.”
Mason Lefever ’25 echoes this sentiment. His junior and senior years of high school were a ping-pong of in-person and remote learning. When he arrived at Widener in fall 2021, he hit the ground running.
Even with campus back to in-person operations, Lefever acknowledges that getting people out to programs and events is a challenge. Some students, he said, feel more comfortable staying in their rooms; others, after two years of a pandemic, are eager to be around people. Comfort levels and decisions are personal and vary.
Sarah Hurley ’24 was part of the Pride Mentoring Program (PMP) as a freshman, and her mentor, whom she met with weekly, helped provide insights into clubs and organizations and the importance of getting involved.
Hurley took the advice to heart. She now serves on SGA, is part of the Blue & Gold news site and Widener Ink literary journal, and is a mentor in PMP. Hurley recently spoke with first-year students who voiced reluctance about getting involved so early in their Widener careers, and she encouraged them to dip their toes into the involvement waters.
“You get to meet new people outside your major. Find a passion that really interests you,” advises Hurley.
Taking on a leadership role as early as her freshman year – and in the midst of a pandemic that brings with it the need to sometimes quickly reschedule or modify an event – has taught Sweet how to be agile.
“I was never that flexible of a person. I used to get upset when there was a schedule change,” she said. “Now I’m so thankful when our events happen. It’s stressful when things change but you adapt.”
And that’s a valuable lesson she’ll carry with her through Widener and beyond.