Student leaders from the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering Technology spent their spring break in San Diego, but they didn’t hit the beach. Instead, they were learning about corporate leadership from some of the city’s top business people and entrepreneurs.
As part of the Russ College’s Robe Leadership Institute (RLI), a select seminar in which students study leadership principles, the founders, CEOs and presidents of FieldLogix, HM Electronics, iTECH, Outsource Manufacturing, PowerGenix and Wintriss Engineering led tours and made presentations to give the students an insider’s view of corporate leadership.
The seminar encourages and promotes effective leadership and enables students to observe and compare various leadership styles as they formulate their own. The trip was coordinated by Russ College alumnus and CEO of Powergenix Group Dan Squiller, BSEE ’79, MA ’84, who is also an RLI board member.
Squiller noted that the annual pilgrimage leaves lasting impressions both on the students and the business leaders. “The students get a rare glimpse of how a cross-section of successful leaders lead, connecting the dots between the classroom and the real world. This exposure to CEOs and their stories multiples many times the effectiveness and retention of the RLI curriculum,” he said. “And without exception, the CEOs have been impressed with the quality of the students, their insights and questions, and the fact that such a leadership program for technical professional exists at the university. It makes me proud to be an alum and a large reason I remain engaged,” he added.
Bill Lozier, RLI assistant director, said the capstone trip – five company visits in two days followed by a debrief session -- brought to life everything that Director David Bayless, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering, teaches in the seminar.
“They were able to observe all the classic attributes of leadership on the leader’s home turf,” Lozier said. “I think the firsthand contact makes the students realize how much they can also accomplish as leaders in their professional careers in the future,” he added.
Before the trip, several students conducted research on specific companies and their executives to present a company briefing before each site visit, where they then served as an RLI ambassador.
The trip kicked off with guest speaker, Steve Jurman, a United States Marshall supervisor headquartered in San Diego, who talked about leadership in life and death situations. That night, the first night of the trip, the group learned about “Leadership in the Trenches” from Tom Bright, executive coach, president and founder of Bright Training Solutions. Students moved on to visit companies at very different points in their development, including a five-person start-up and a company of more than 500 employees.
“Talking to each CEO was unique in that they came from radically different backgrounds and had different leadership styles,” said senior Benjamin Taylor, a senior in industrial and systems engineering. “We've talked a lot about the differences between managing and leading. The main difference is that leading is about motivating the people that work for you to do the best they can to meet the goals of an organization.”
Senior Johnathan Norris, a senior engineering technology and management major, said he’ll take the experience forward into his career.
“It will surely stick with me throughout my career as an engineer and a leader,” Norris said. “The RLI course as a whole has been one of the most important and educational experiences for me throughout my entire college career.”