Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center Cultivates Dynamic Leaders

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Policy and leadership programs combine to prepare students to take on world problems.

Rockefeller Leadership Fellows
From left, graduating Rockefeller Leadership Fellow Asaf Zilberfarb ’17 chats with Sadhana Hall, deputy director of the Rockefeller Center, and newly selected 2018 leadership fellows Gricelda Ramos ’18 and Jonathan Chu ’18 before the May 18 reception. (Photo by Robert Gill)  


The Rockefeller Leadership Fellows (RLF), a leadership program for Dartmouth seniors at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, finishes up with a final leadership exercise—selecting the next crop of fellows from the diverse pool of juniors who apply.

The program is designed as the culminating experience within a broad array of leadership programs offered at the Rockefeller Center—all designed to develop students’ ability to lead in the world beyond Dartmouth. There are programs tailored to first year students through seniors, from all majors, who seek to develop the skills to be successful in their chosen field.

“Dartmouth’s mission is to educate students for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership. At the Rockefeller Center, we firmly embrace both objectives in that mission,” says center director Andrew Samwick, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving ’72a P’10 Professor of Economics.

This year, incoming fellows Jonathan Chu ’18 and Gricelda Ramos ’18 say the interview process was a lesson in itself. At a group interview run by the current Rockefeller Leadership Fellows (RLF) last month, the ’18s split up into small groups that competed to construct the tallest tower from marshmallows and sticks of spaghetti. Afterwards, they discussed what they had discovered about their own leadership styles and their group’s team-building skills.

“They basically showed us how the RLF programs will work and gave us an idea of how our group will work together next year,” says Chu, a math major. He developed a real sense of how committed the leadership fellows are to one another, he says. “Throughout the interview process, and after, a lot of the ’17s who I didn't know before applying were really supportive. I felt like they made a huge effort to get to know me, and a lot of them I’ve started to feel are good friends now.”

The application process emphasizes the importance of networking, says Ramos, who is pursuing government and Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean studies. A senior from her Latinx affinity group encouraged Ramos to apply.

“I think the RLF seniors have a great way of reaching out individually, but also as a group, contacting individuals who they think would benefit from leadership development, and bring even more diversity to the cohort,” Ramos says. “Even those of us in this cohort, we've already started building relationships.”

In addition to RLF, the center’s comprehensive leadership program include Dartmouth Leadership Attitudes and Behaviors (D-LAB), a student-facilitated program for first-year students; the Management and Leadership Development Program (MLDP), a one-term session for sophomores, juniors, and seniors; the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP), designed for students who would like to work globally; and the Create Your Path program, that allows students to reflect on what they have learned and to develop a strategic life and career plan.

The broad curriculum of public policy courses, internships, and foreign study opportunities at the center are all complemented and supported by the Rockerfeller Center’s leadership learning mission, Samwick says. “We do not see how it is possible to improve public policy without developing leadership capacity.”

He has seen this principle play out throughout his career. “It was my experience in the year I served at the Council of Economic Advisers that the lack of subject knowledge is seldom the constraint in effecting better public policy,” Samwick says. “The binding constraint is that too few policy makers have the ability to translate knowledge into socially beneficial outcomes. That translation requires leadership—the ability to mobilize a group and its resources to achieve a common goal despite a variety of potentially competing interests.”

Sadhana Hall, deputy director of the Rockefeller Center, has played a key role in conceptualizing and developing the leadership programs. She says that leadership development pushes students to examine their core values through conversations with prominent guest speakers, working on case studies, participating in team building exercises, and sharing insights in discussions and presentations.

“The idea is that, as emerging leaders, they need to be self-aware. They need to understand how to work in teams, to be aware of the different kinds of leadership styles, to understand how organizations work, and to see how all these elements can come together to enable them to address a cause that’s larger then themselves,” Hall says.

There are no cookie-cutter formulas for teaching these ideas, she says; the key is to encourage critical thinking. For example, the principle of integrity—keeping your word to yourself and to others—is straightforward enough, but the essential task is to help young leaders internalize this concept.

“I make students go through an exercise, saying, think about last week and tell me, did you break your word to yourself or to someone else? It can be anything as small as, ‘I was late,’ or ‘I woke up at 9 when I was supposed to wake up at 7:30,’ ” Hall says. “It becomes clear that none of us can keep our word at all times, but acting with integrity means if you have not kept your word, here’s how you're going to fix it. You’re going to say you're sorry and figure out how you're going to fix it.”

Benjamin Campbell ’10, an anthropology major with a public policy minor, was a Rocky Leadership Fellow. He is now based in Boston, where he is working on a Gates Foundation-funded analytics project, looking at ways to strengthen health systems in low-resourced areas of Nigeria, India, and other countries.

He says he has vivid memories of a workshop at Rocky where they imagined leadership styles as points on a compass that varied from mission-driven commander, to visionary, to consensus builder, to leadership enabler, and asked participants to place themselves on that continuum.

“The biggest thing I got from the program—that exercise is just one example—is just the importance of self-reflection, and self-awareness, and having the chance to talk about that with other people in a safe, supportive place,” Campbell says.

“I still practice a lot of what I learned at Rocky to this day, and I think about that group. I’m still friends with people in that group. It is very much a living and breathing experience,” Campbell says. “And I’m still close with Sadhana. She was a key part of it. We all gravitated toward her. I think her example produced a powerful result.”

Hall is co-author with Gama Perruci, dean of the McDonough Leadership Center at Marietta College, of the forthcoming book, Teaching Leadership: Bridging Theory and Practice.

Graduating RLF senior Devyn Greenberg ’17 was also an intern in Washington, D.C., through the center’s First Year Fellows program, and spent a term in England through the Rockefeller Center’s Dartmouth-Oxford Exchange at Keble College. She agreed that Hall sets a powerful example.

“Sadhana is mentor to all of us. She really cares,” Greenberg says. “Sadhana is invested in every individual in that program becoming their own genuine leader—their own authentic leader. It's not only that she holds us accountable to be committed to the program, which she does, but it’s also that, in an intangible way, because she is clearly investing so much in the process, we do, too.” 

Watch a video about the Management and Leadership Development Program.

Bill Platt