Have you seen A New Light in Harlem?

Our original upload to YouTube got over 600 views in just a matter of days! We had to do a *tiny* bit of clean-up, so we uploaded a new version (click below).

The film features interviews with General Colin Powell, Dean Vince Boudreau, and faculty, students, alumni, and board members, spotlighting the amazing community we have up here on the City College campus.

Do you know a young person who wants to be a leader in public service? Get access to world-class preparatory coursework and field experience without amassing piles of debt?

Are you a scholar, educator, or community organizer looking to break down walls between the Academy and the surrounding community? Who knows that in order to find better answers to pressing questions of the 21st century, we need to hear more voices?

Watch and learn more about the mission of the Colin Powell School—”A New Light in Harlem.”



Three Crucial Questions for Every Student

Kamilah Briscoe









by Kamilah Briscoe, Director, Office of Student Success

In its name and mission, the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership pledges to “enable our students to energetically address the challenges of the 21stcentury” by “promoting the values of service, engagement, and leadership.” We believe a fundamental lesson of leadership is the idea of agency. The Office of Student Success begins teaching this lesson by asking our students three questions.

When do you graduate? We want this question to be a constant reminder of every student’s most basic goal, and we want our faculty and staff resources focused on helping students to make timely progress towards graduation. Our very first priority in every conversation should be to work with students to remove all obstacles toward graduation. How does this teach leadership? It reminds students that graduation doesn’t happen through an arbitrary process that they achieve through luck, happenstance, and the accumulation of enough waking hours in calculus class; it’s within in their control. If they aren’t finding a way to reach graduation on time, then they need to create one. And we’re there to help them do that.

What will you do once you graduate? This is a question we want to start asking the minute students arrive on campus. The answers may change over time (and as students develop a more sophisticated sense of their skills, aptitudes, and preferences, we hope that it does), but our ultimate goal is success to and through graduation. And that planning, dreaming, and building begins freshman year. More important than the answer to this question is the response to the natural follow-up: What are you doing now that will help you get there? Do you need a tutor for that statistics class? Do you know about Psychology Club? Have you taken that Child Psychology course that other students have found rewarding? Have you had an internship at Peer Health Exchange? Presented a paper at the Eastern Sociology Society conference? Students need to know—at every step—that there’s an activity, an opportunity, or an experience designed to help them take concrete, measurable steps toward their goal. Our job, as educators, is to make sure those experiences exist, and that they work well. If we do that, we create a community in which student agency is rewarded.

Who is helping you get there? Networks don’t build themselves. Seeking help, getting and staying connected—these are skills that some students have and others need to learn. As educators, our job here is two-fold: to ensure that students are talking to others about their goals and to make sure that students are talking to the right others. When students need help with a midterm, there must be a peer tutor that can guide them. When they need help writing a personal statement for graduate school, they need the attention of a faculty member. If they apply for a job in a government agency, they will ideally connect to alumni working there. When we help students leverage networks, we exponentially increase their ability to get where they want to go.

These are the core questions that drive leadership in every field and every capacity. We hope that as students move through their academic experience, they’ll be placed in opportunities that require them to ask more sophisticated versions of these same questions. We hope they participate in a student organization that requires them to ask: What are our goals as a student organization? How are those goals relevant to the broader CCNY student body? What are we doing now to achieve those goals? Who should we be working with? How do we work with others ethically and productively? At internships, we hope they ask: What is my team’s goal? How does it help the organization achieve its mission? How do we, as a team, work together to contribute productively? What does it take to be a good team player?  

We know from experience that these questions are empowering. We’ve watched students in our programs act, build, and grow from them. We know the potential these simple conversations have to create active, engaged learners who have a vision for themselves, understand the steps to enact that vision, and know how to work with others to reach common goals.

Of course, these and other questions about leadership begin in the classroom. There, students begin to build an understanding of how complex, modern societies are constructed, how power is generated and deployed, how wealth is accumulated and distributed, how our individual psyches help us construct worldviews; they explore the historical and theoretical underpinnings of social meaning-making, and they learn the writing, research, and quantitative skills needed to address society’s most pressing concerns. The fact that our curriculum has already embedded the core elements for understanding our social world makes it an ideal place to purposefully teach students about how to lead in such a world.

Our curriculum encourages students to evaluate their values and their commitments to ideas like trust, community, transparency, integrity, voice, rights, obligations, and responsibilities to others. We want them to understand the full complexity of these rather simple questions, to consider the full range of answers, to come to conclusions about where they stand, and to fight, responsibly and doggedly, toward their goals. By asking simple questions in the beginning, we prepare our students to answer the more difficult questions that lie ahead.

From the Dean: The Fundamentals of Leadership


by Dean Vince Boudreau, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Leadership can mean a lot of things to different people, and has been on the minds of more than a few of us at the Colin Powell School. What does it mean to shoulder the task of developing leadership capacities in new generations of City College students?

For us, leadership probably needs to mean something different than the specific training programs that take place in Outward Bound experiences or executive leadership seminars—because our leadership development work occurs alongside the university’s degree-granting activity. Students here need to prepare themselves for leadership roles as they learn the ins and outs of economics, sociology, psychology, and other academic fields. 

Moving from fellowship programs for 100 select students at the Colin PowellCenter to addressing the needs of the 2,600 students enrolled in the Colin PowellSchool was daunting—precisely because we need to integrate leadership education and academic study in ways that are relevant to each of these students. How does the leadership mission sit alongside students’ academic priorities? Some wondered whether a leadership curriculum would displace or dilute the traditional academic disciplines. Others worried that applying the curriculum across a number of disciplines would dilute leadership goals we’d set for the school.

However, I think these questions obscure the main issue and camouflage our central opportunity. It would be a mistake to pursue our leadership mission as a program or curriculum, delivered in classes or seminars marked specifically for that purpose. Rather, we must regard it as an approach, geared to develop in students a habit of thinking through the relationships between their ideas, their choices, their skills, and their connections to one another.

We cannot know what roles our students will eventually inhabit, and so must allow for the vast diversity of student experience and trajectory. Our approach must excite the imagination, and harnesses the talents of everyone at our school—from first year students unsure of how to navigate the college bureaucracy, to sophomores trying to figure out how to direct their studies, to seniors about to enter the professional world. Our vision of leadership must include those on an honors trajectory, those struggling to succeed, and everyone in between.

So how can we develop this approach? You could compile a long list of leadership attributes, but most fall into three main categories: vision attributes, skill attributes, and integrity attributes. Leaders possess a vision for something better, and orient themselves toward shared rather than individual or self-promoting goals. Leaders have the skills to communicate those goals, to allocate responsibility, and to evaluate progress. Leaders have the integrity to sustain and inspire support; they hold themselves and others accountable to a shared vision, and live lives consistent with that vision.

We want our students to acquire these leadership attributes and habits. But I think we start with something so fundamental that it risks being overlooked: the idea that none of us should be passive observers of our lives, that each day offers a chance to engage the grand project of meeting the future head on.

I think we start with the basic idea of agency.

It is, in some ways, both too modest and too ambitious a place to start. It prefigures loftier leadership skills, the advanced knowledge of upper-division classes, and the specialized focus of a research project or service placement. In these ways, agency may indeed be a small thing. But it may also be nothing short of a revolutionary declaration: that having arrived in this place, at this juncture in one’s life, a young person may take control of their future, and perhaps help author better futures for those around them.

And here’s the most important thing: We will lose students if we assume that everyone comes to school feeling the thrill of their own potential. But they should, and we must work every day to make sure that they do. So we start with agency.

Over the weeks and months to follow, I will, in our blog, lay out a vision for the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership—this wonderful endeavor I’ve been asked to shepherd. I’ll outline new programming, opportunities for students, and faculty projects, but my next post will stick close to examining what agency must mean in the service of our educational mission, and how we can produce a kind of leadership education that inspires our curriculum and propels confident, visionary students into the world.

Kofi Annan Talk Spotlights Global Affairs and Leadership

Kofi Annan and John H. Ruggie in conversation at City College.

By Maura Christopher, Director of Publications, Colin Powell Center

With the fate of Syria dominating headlines, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Friday for a political solution to the conflict. “Military intervention will only make things worse.” said Annan, who served during 2012 as Joint Special Envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the League of Arab States.

Annan’s comments were part of a wide-ranging discussion with John H. Ruggie, professor of Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard University, who served as Annan’s assistant secretary-general for strategic planning. The February 8 talk, sponsored by the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service and the City College Division of Social Science, marked the completion of a six-year joint CCNY-Yale University project to research, collect, organize, and publish the official papers of Kofi Annan.

Unprecedented Access
Led by the Professor Jean Krasno, director of multilateral organizations for the Colin Powell Center and director of CCNY’s MA program in International Relations, the project provides access to documents that otherwise, under the UN system, would be locked away for decades. “The papers open up the UN and offer a view behind the scenes,” Annan said. “Now young academicians who want to understand the decade will get access, and so Jean’s contribution is of tremendous value.”

Speaking before a full house that had braved blizzard warnings to attend the talk, Annan and Ruggie offered relaxed conversation on a range of topics, including the proper role of governments. Annan described that role as “getting governments to understand that they should focus not only on themselves but on protecting and defending the rights of their people.” Annan added: “Even genocide starts with the humiliation of one person.”

On Syria, Annan noted the effect of intervention on the country’s numerous ethnic minorities. “Syrians have seen the jihadist elements that military intervention encourages, and they know the ethnic cleansing, revenge killings, and instability this can lead to,” he said. He also stressed the importance of countries such as China and Russia supporting a diplomatic solution, which could avoid the collapse of Syria as a state.

Changing the World’s View
Ruggie also engaged Annan on his role on the global HIV/AIDs pandemic. Annan, along with the UN itself, won the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership on this issue, which had been widely marginalized. As CCNY President Lisa S. Coico had noted in her introductory remarks, “Kofi Annan changed the world’s view of the virus and focused its attention so we could make tremendous strides in this arena.” In his remarks, Annan movingly described how he and his wife, Nane, visited poor patients who could not begin to afford the costly life-saving medication available in wealthier countries. In response, Annan brought together pharmaceutical executives to work out cost-effective solutions. Annan also praised President George W. Bush’s action providing $200 million to fight HIV/AIDS globally.

Peace Before Justice
Taking questions from the audience, Annan called himself a supporter of the International Criminal Court, but noted that in a conflict situation, peace must come before justice. “You stop the violence in a situation, then seek justice,” he said.

The inspirational talk in the Great Hall of Shepard Hall also touched on Annan’s concept of leadership: “Gather together a good team-people with good judgment,” Annan said. “Assign tasks, free your people to do them. and instill team spirit.” Annan added his own model of such spirit: Brazil’s national soccer team. “It’s all about winning as a team, but it allows for individual brilliance.”

Read more about Maura Christopher and our other contributors here.

Former Fellow Don Gomez Heads to the Army’s Ranger Leadership School


This post originally appeared on Carrying the Gun, the blog of former leadership fellow Don Gomez (2008-2010).

Ranger School
Stryker Leader Course

This week I graduated from the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (IBOLC). I’m now branch qualified, meaning I can go on and do my job as an infantry platoon leader. Next up is Ranger School, an intensive two month combat leadership course.

Lots of my mentors described IBOLC like this: “You won’t learn anything, but you’ll have a good time and do some good field problems.” While I see what they were saying, I actually feel like I learned a lot at IBOLC. It’s true that I knew a lot of the stuff from my prior service, and my mind and body were already prepped to quickly learn what I needed to learn. Still, I found that the course challenged me and I am leaving IBOLC a better leader than I arrived.

Our company had three platoons and each platoon operated independently from the others, each very differently, so individual experiences within the company varied.

It was difficult to track how I was doing throughout the course because our platoon cadre didn’t keep us updated on where we stood on the Order of Merit List (OML). At the end of Leader Forge, we learned where we stood. I wound up finishing 2/43 in my platoon and was named the platoon Honor Graduate. I competed for Company Honor Graduate, but came up short.

Highlights during the course for me include being the platoon leader for ourplatoon live fire, sustaining a nasty ankle sprain, carrying the guidon for the 16 mile foot march (sucks, but better than carrying the gun), and falling in a swamp. I was our platoon historian and created and maintained our company Facebook page (with the help of the other platoon historians). The Army also wrote a story about me while I was out in the field during Leader Forge.

It feels good to be wearing the Blue Cord again.

Don Gomez is a former Colin Powell Leadership fellow. He served twice in Iraq before studying at City College, and has since returned to the military. Read more about him and our other contributors.