Rice Students Learn From Top Community Leaders

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The Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to step beyond campus and into the Houston community to learn from leaders who are shaping the city.

The institute has created a leadership excursion program in which students are given exclusive access to meet and listen to community leaders talk about their successes and failures and insights into ethical dilemmas. The program is limited to 10 students per excursion.

“Our leader excursions are more than an entertaining field trip,” said Stephanie Taylor, Doerr Institute assistant director for leader development. “Excursions are half-day learning experiences in which students take leadership stories from Houston’s top leaders and debrief them, using a framework that leads to plans for students moving forward.”

In fall 2019, students visited the Houston Police Department, where they talked to Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“Leadership is putting yourself at risk,” said Acevedo.

Acevedo told the students he strategically “leads from the front” more than 5,200 law enforcement officers and 1,200 civilian support personnel. He emphasized the importance of building trust and engaging with the people you lead.

Before students take part in an excursion, they attend a training session that fosters continuous reflection and evaluation. Participants are taught ORCA (Observe, Reflect, Commit, Act), a four-step reflection model created by the Doerr Institute, to guide them on their excursion journey.

Last fall, students also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Welela Tereffe, chief medical officer at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“If you’re not leading into conflict, you are avoiding the job of being a leader,” said Tereffe.

Tereffe gave students tips on how she develops her leadership skills, focusing on leadership competencies, such as managing conflict and delivering feedback.
Iris Shi, a Rice business student from China, said her visit with Tereffe revealed the power of delegation and ways she can strengthen her ability to lead a team. “After observing and learning from Dr. Tereffe, I feel more confident about how to delegate tasks and deal with conflicts,” said Shi.

The program was created in 2018 after a Student Association representative asked the institute for help in achieving the community engagement priority of the university’s mission. “Engage Houston and Empower Its Success” is a tenet of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade (V2C2).

Taylor said the aim of the excursions program is for students to take their inspirations and turn them into actions. “So many times you leave an encounter with a leader feeling inspired,” she said, “but never actually change the way you operate.”

“Our approach to the excursion experience provides students with an opportunity to develop a personal plan of action that will last long after the excursion.”
Some past excursion leaders include Gary Tinterow, director of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Jim Nelson, executive director at the Houston Ballet; and Mark DiBella, CEO of YES Prep Public Schools.

During 2020, students will have the opportunity to learn from leaders such as Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America, and Lisa Falkenberg, vice president and editor of the Houston Chronicle’s opinion section.

— Brooklyn Holt
Digital Communications and Marketing Specialist
Doerr Institute for New Leaders


A quarterly newsletter that showcases the university’s outreach programs. Each issue of the newsletter includes a series of stories that raise the awareness of Rice’s engagement with the city and beyond.