Lees-McRae students and faculty become “changemakers” at Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat

Continuous hands-on education is a priority for Lees-McRae students and faculty alike, which is why on an early April weekend four Bobcats participated in the Ignite Retreat, an immersive co-curricular learning experience sponsored by the Sullivan Foundation.

From Friday, April 1 to Sunday, April 3 Dean of Business and Management Amy Anderson, Visiting Instructor for Business Administration Katherine Oglietti, and juniors Timon “TJ” Jones and Jaylin Stewart-Cooper spent a weekend learning about leadership and business strategy at the retreat in Staunton, Virginia.

The retreat is designed for students, faculty, and staff from colleges across the U.S. who are associated with the Sullivan Foundation. The retreat continues the mission of the Sullivan Foundation, which is to create a space for young people to become social entrepreneurs and identify areas where they can solve issues and make societal change.

“The Ignite Retreat provides students of any major with the skill sets and confidence to lead change in the world,” Spud Marshall, Ignite Retreat facilitator, said. “Participants discover how to develop novel solutions to pressing problems, how to gain clarity on their unique leadership style, and how to grow their network and collaborate effectively with others.”

Throughout the weekend students and faculty were split into different activity groups, allowing the faculty to periodically stop into student programming while completing beneficial programming of their own. Anderson said that the faculty meetings allowed her and the other participants to compare notes with peers from college campuses across the country and refocus after a long two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a chance for me to be with other like-minded faculty from across the country. The participants are from everywhere,” Anderson said. “It’s like we all collectively took a deep breath and figured out ways for each of us to come home and implement some of this excitement again in the classroom. We had time to flip ourselves from just being classroom teachers to being facilitators and really generate that critical thinking in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, student attendees were able to shape their experience by participating in different discussions and workshops throughout the weekend. These included lessons on how to build a strong team, crash courses on sales pitching, and more.

As Business Administration majors, Jones and Stewart-Cooper were able to focus and expand upon some ideas and skills that they have been developing throughout their time at Lees-McRae. More than that, however, their experience at Ignite Retreat helped them  identify their priorities and passions.

“Some of the activities we did helped show me the things that I take seriously both in my heart and in my head. The one thing I really noticed was my desire to give back to my community,” Stewart-Cooper said. “Both TJ and I are from the same area, and we’ve seen some pretty harsh realities. Young people want to get out of that cycle, but there’s this idea that if you don’t play a sport, you can’t, or no one is showing you how to do that.”

Both he and Jones are passionate about giving back to their community. During the sales pitching seminar, Jones pitched an idea he has developed from a school project into a budding entrepreneurial club back home in his community called Dreamer’s Club.

“I’ve been teaching entrepreneurial clubs in my area back home. I started doing it as a project for a class, and then I realized that I really liked it and I liked teaching. It was nice to be able to pitch it to my peers at other colleges and have the opportunity to network with them,” Jones said. “It was good to meet other creative minds.”

Both Jones and Stewart-Cooper have already recommended Ignite Retreat and other workshops like it to their friends and peers, stressing that you don’t need to be business-minded to gain valuable tools and information from the experience.

“My life has pretty much been basketball, basketball, basketball, but now that I know I will be graduating soon I’ve started to have business ideas,” Stewart-Cooper said. “I figured I would go to the retreat to have an outlet to get my ideas out there and see how people will take it and get some critiques, and this experience did just that. It showed me that I’m not just a basketball player; I’m a pretty intellectual guy.”

All the attendees noted that more than anything else the retreat was inspirational and reinvigorated their desire to make a positive impact. Whether they direct their energy toward teaching in the classroom, discovering more about their passions, or gaining resources for opportunities down the road, each participant had much to gain from the experience.

“By the end of the weekend, we hope folks walk away with the confidence, clarity, and community they need to lead change in the world,” Marshall said. “We hope the weekend is a critical spark to their changemaking journey that they can carry back with them into their home communities and campuses.”

By Maya JarrellApril 18, 2022
Campus LifeAcademics