“Leadership is something that you can hone. It is a skill set, just as much as it is a genetic pattern.”

Those are some of the words offered by former Bucknell University president Dr. Gary Sojka in his keynote address at the Second Annual Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy Kickoff Event, held Sunday afternoon in the Elaine Langone Center Forum.

Dr. Sojka knows a little something about leadership. He served as Bucknell’s president from 1984-95, where he was one of the founding fathers of the Patriot League, an athletics conference built on the principles of true scholar-athlete participation. Dr. Sojka is widely considered one of the most popular and successful presidents in Bucknell’s history. The University’s 10-year-old basketball arena – Sojka Pavilion – is named in his honor, and he remains a vocal advocate for Bucknell’s commitment to the scholar-athlete ideal.

“We want to push the envelope, we want to win, we want to entertain, and we want to be branded, but first and foremost we want to be known for people like you: student-athletes,” Sojka told the 60-plus members of the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy and their coaches. “We say that we want to develop, challenge and support leaders. You are engaged in that. Being a leader will benefit you in all walks of life.”

Two Bison student-athletes were involved in the Kickoff Event program, as field hockey standout Vickie Resh introduced Dr. Sojka, and men’s basketball sophomore Ryan Frazier presented him with a gift from the Leadership Academy.

The Kickoff Event capped off a full day for the members of the Leadership Academy. They began their Sunday bright and early with an off-campus excursion to the Forrest Brown Conference Center in the nearby village of Cowan.

One of the highlights of this year’s expanded programming is a partnership with the Bison Battalion of the Army ROTC. Under the facilitation of Andy Mahoney, Leadership Academy members engaged in activities that reinforced leadership skills such as effective communication, decision-making, conflict resolution and strategy execution. These exercises served as creative ways to introduce the subject matter that members will discuss further during the formal sessions that include theoretical approaches to leadership development.  

At one station, small groups were handed an egg and some minimal supplies, such as straws, paper and paper clips. They had to design a method to keep the egg from breaking when dropped from a height of over 10 feet onto a stone surface. Prior to dropping their egg, each group first had to present a slogan in the form of a song. This represented a creative exercise in teamwork and building consensus to collectively execute a successful mission.

To challenge communication and reinforce the importance of listening, another station involved water balloon tossing, but with a catch. The tosser was blindfolded, and had to connect a pass to teammates stationed at targets ranging from 15-30 yards away. Effective communication and strategy were keys in completing the tosses and keeping their teammates dry.

The Leadership Academy members also engaged in a strategic game of tug-of-war, as well as a military-like simulation where they had to find ways to transport an injured teammate through a heavily wooded area.

“This was a fantastic day, one of the best leadership training activities that we have done since we launched the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy in 2011,” said senior associate athletic director Maisha Kelly, who administers the program. “I am very excited about the Academy’s new partnership with the Army ROTC’s Bison Battalion. The activities at Cowan will be a springboard for introducing leadership skills and the challenges that come with being leaders in a group setting.”

The Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy was launched in August 2011 with the goal of delivering programming and instruction that bridge theory, development and real experiences in an interactive learning environment. Through this endeavor, team leaders can enhance their impact on their teammates' and their program's performance immediately and for years to come. Leadership Academy programming has evolved and expanded throughout its first two years, and much more is planned in 2013-14.

“Another exciting feature of this year’s Leadership Academy program is that it implements projects that were selected last year by the rising seniors,” said Kelly. “The work that the Academy members will engage in this year will focus not only on leadership development, but also on building bridges and encouraging members to exercise their skills through practical approaches.”

On Oct. 27, the members of the Leadership Academy will be assigned hands-on projects to be completed over the course of the year. The student-athletes will also undergo personality assessments to help them better define their own leadership strengths and weaknesses, as well as recognize those traits in their peers.