Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 This Is a special episode focused on the college's mission, tenet of civic engagement and leadership. With a specific angle on student leadership management consultant and scholar alumni, society leader, Alayna Auerbach and student leader and fourth year scholar, Mahika Sampat. Join the show to talk all things student leadership engagement and clubs and organizations. Alayna and Mahika share their insights from serving in leadership roles for various groups, including the Scholar Alumni Society thon, Schreyer for Women, and South Asian Student Association among others. This episode transcends majors and career paths to be a resource for any scholar and particularly those serving in any sort of leadership role in a student club or organization internship or similar opportunities and how these experiences can influence post undergraduate opportunities. Guest bios and specific topics discussed are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's get into our chat with Alayna and Mahika following the gong.
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Sean 00:01:52 Thank you both for joining me and our listeners. You just heard some brief bios, so we're just gonna jump right into our chat here and this one's gonna be a little bit different from our usual episodes. And today we're gonna focus on student leadership since that is a core mission tenant here in the Honors college and we're hoping that this will be helpful for scholars who are leading or thinking about leading different clubs on campus or other extracurriculars. Now Alayna, you are highly involved as a student and you currently serve as the student engagement chair on our Alumni Society and Mahika. You're soon to be a scholar alumna and currently you lead two different groups on campus that touch very different aspects of student life. So in framing our conversation with that, Alayna, I'll start with you just really quickly here to help us understand your journey. How did you come to Penn State in the Honors college?
Alayna 00:02:38 Yeah, thank you so much Sean. I'm really happy to be here with you and Mahika today. So I went to high school in Pennsylvania and it was financially reasonable to come to Penn State. That being said, it was kind of a rocky start. I actually really did not want to come to Penn State. I was the first in my family to go to college. I wanted to just get out of town, go to California, but I went to Penn State and I will never forget after, I think it was the last day of Showtime, I called my mom and I told her, nevermind, I will see you at Thanksgiving. Once I got to Penn State and went through Showtime, it felt like I walked into this magical world of people that I never really got exposure to before and I was just so excited to meet all the different Schreyer students and it found sounds like a little nerdy I guess now, but I just remember being so excited and uh, that's why I wound up staying. Awesome.
Sean 00:03:31 And Ika what, what drew you here as a student? Yeah,
Mahika 00:03:34 So first, thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited for this and I actually have a similar story to Alayna. I also grew up, um, and went to high school in Pennsylvania and I just had this view of Penn State that it was gonna be the same as high school. Everybody from my high school went to Penn State and I wanted to go somewhere different and be different. Uh, so I applied to the honors college and my roommate, current roommate and I both uh, got into the honors college and we were like, oh wait, let's just go to college together. Uh, because we were friends in high school and we both independently decided to go and then kind of realized that we were both going, uh, which was really interesting. And then I remember coming to Showtime as well and I met my really close friends still to this day.
Mahika 00:04:21 Uh, they were in my group which was, you know, kind of like the luck of the draw <laugh>. But that was also very fun. Um, and I, I just felt so surrounded by motivated and like-minded people. I think as soon as I got here, as soon as I went through Showtime, um, I was in a similar position I think that Alayna was where I also called my mom and I was like, I'm ready. Like I love it here and I've already met some really great people. So I think the combination of going in with somebody that I knew and the support of the honors college and meeting people through Showtime definitely helped me to make my decision.
Sean 00:04:57 Absolutely. And you said it was the luck of the draw and we're glad it worked out for you, that you made some great friends at Showtime and I think a lot of our scholars can probably relate to that, but another great opportunity to meet friends is obviously through different student organizations. Now Lena, you were pretty involved here on campus and in the honors college as a student a few years back, can you give us an overview of the groups that you were involved in and in some cases even helped start?
Alayna 00:05:19 Yeah, for sure. I definitely took the bottom up approach when I, when I got to Penn State and I threw myself into everything including things that really looking back, made no sense at all. You know, I went to a rowing club meeting and it had no intentions of rowing nor had I ever wrote. I just thought it was so cool that there was one. So I think that I wanted to soak it all in and then over time I refined and refined based on what I liked and what I thought it made sense for me. So my core areas of involvement wound up being the Schreyer Consulting Group, which I kind of founded on top of another founding. Um, but that was really my main area of involvement. I also did a few international travel programs with the honors college as well as other organizations to India, Panama and Spain. And another area was the TH entertainment committee and last core focus involvement group was a civil engineering class. Uh, even though I am a finance major, that landed me going to competitions in Las Vegas for two years in a row, which was super cool.
Sean 00:06:24 And we're gonna dive in in a minute into how you got into those but Ika, first I want to hear what are the two groups that you are currently helping to lead here at the time of recording? So
Mahika 00:06:34 I also kind of dove in and started with a lot of groups, but then I narrowed it down I think in the past two years or so to Schreyer for Women and South Asian Student Association. So Schreyer for Women is a place in the honors college for uh, female identifying individuals. And I joined as a freshman basically inspired by everybody older than me and looking up to them a lot. And then I ended up becoming the career development chair for that for a few years and then trans transitioning into the career development director and then for South Asian Student Association I joined my freshman year as a freshman liaison on the board, which as a freshman liaison you shadowed the rest of the board. So I just got to get a taste of all the positions and then I worked my way up and I became the events chair and then the events director and now I'm currently president of the organization. So
Sean 00:07:31 Clearly you are both were involved Alayna Mahika, you currently are very involved and at Penn State, regardless of what campus you're at, there is no shortage of opportunities to join or create an organization. There is a bit of a healthy balance though that you need to manage all of that. I'm a little biased but I'd say you don't want to join too few groups. I think it's really important that students get involved in something on campus, but you also do not want to join too many things and overwhelm yourself because at the end of the day you are here to be a student first student leader student comes first in that phrase. So question for both of you. Trying to dive a little bit deeper on my last one is how did you go about figuring out which ones you may probably signed up for lots of different things at the organization fair, you might call it Club Rush at a campus or other different events. How did you decide which ones to whittle down and really focus on and which ones to kind of say, Hmm, it sounds fun but I don't have time for that right now.
Alayna 00:08:25 I definitely had to deal with that question at some point because to your point Sean, you wanna be involved but we all have 24 hours in a day and even though people at Penn State have find a way to really stretch that amount of time, we still are limited and we also wanna care for our own mental health and making sure we have time for ourselves. So one thing for me that really helped narrow down what I wanted to focus on was that I thought about where could I actually have an impact? So is there a leadership opportunity here, here? Is there something I can develop or create as a part of this organization because that would give me the most joy. And I also knew of course that it would look good on a resume or you know, give me a learning opportunity. And then secondly, I tell this to students now all the time.
Alayna 00:09:10 I did it a little bit, I wish I did more of it, but I advise people to choose the things that they actually like because in in your major, you know you're doing your classes, your thesis, all these things centered around this career path you think you're going to pursue, but you're still, you and your life is actually going to become more than just whatever career path you choose to pursue, it's the things you actually like. So if you can find ways to be involved in a structured way, exploring those things you like, it really gives you a foundation to continue those things in your life. And even I've seen students and alumni create really cool career paths because they're combining what this like structured career is with something that they really like and, and that's one way to do it is from being involved on campus.
Mahika 00:09:55 So I think for me, leadership has always been integral to everything in my life. Uh, in high school I was in many leadership positions and I think going into college I knew that I wanted to also do that to make an impact. And I guess for each club, so for Schreyer for Women, I founded this organization in high school called S Girls, which was a women empowerment group for um, women in science technology, um, engineering and math. And I think that that inspired me to join Strive for Women in the first place. Uh, and then I wanna take like my passion of helping and inspiring women to the next level in college and sustaining that. Um, and Strive for Women has many different pillars and I think career development is something that as women we struggle with. And there's still a little bit of an issue with that I think in the workplace, you know, trying to figure out your balance between your personal life and your career.
Mahika 00:10:55 And so I think that I really found that thought for me to want to flourish and for me to want to lead other people in. And then in terms of Sasa, that was just about connecting with my culture. I've always been highly involved in my culture growing up. My parents are both immigrants and I think going to college and joining an organization like that was almost a nod to my culture. And actually was talking to my grandmother the other day who lives in India and I was telling her about what I was doing with Sassa and she started crying and she told me that she was so proud of me. And I think hearing that about my culture, which I value so deeply, is something that made me realize that you know, that's like why I joined the club no matter all the hard things that happen in it and everything that you have to endure and undergo being a student leader, it kind of brought me back to the reason I joined in the first place, which was to love my culture and support my culture.
Sean 00:11:54 Mahi, you raised a really interesting point there about kind of sharing that with your, your grandmother and Alayna I wanna ask you, because you said in the beginning that you know, you were the first person in your family to go to college first gen. How do you explain, or at the time, how did you explain to your family all of these other things that you were doing in addition to your classwork?
Alayna 00:12:12 Yeah, that's a good question. I think they kind of expected it because at home I was always known for having like my room being a complete mess. 'cause I had like 10 projects going on at all times in high school, middle school, like as a child. So I think when I was talking about these different things I was doing, they were of course like confused as always, but also like, this makes sense for you. But I think that they, they would mainly think it was super cool that these things existed. And it also gave me a almost like inversely to what Mahika is describing, which is taking something like that you you value in your culture and bringing it to Penn State, it allowed me to take things that I found were really cool and taking it back to my family, some of the things I got involved in and why they meant things to me and then, and then that was able to better, I don't know, it gave me a way to explain like myself to my family, uh, if that makes sense.
Sean 00:13:05 It does. And Mahika, I don't know if you have any experience beyond what you're sharing with your grandmother and that's a very positive reaction, but maybe you've had friends who've parents have maybe judged them a little bit for not focusing on their classwork and how you would suggest to a student listening who maybe is in a similar boat, how they could approach sharing with their family, the value of being involved in groups like Trier for Women or the consulting group or other efforts.
Mahika 00:13:30 Yeah, I know that sometimes when I get really stressed about my organizations and I talk to my family and friends, they always tell me it's just an organization, you're there for school. And you know, that's like the main purpose. But to me if somebody says that, I'm like, that's not, it's not just an organization to me it means so much more and I'm very passionate about it. And so I think that that is something I've seen at some points maybe, um, when people are trying to comfort me and let me know that at the end of the day everything else is, everything's going to be fine. I think that people might use that route to do that. Um, and I also think that uh, some people might not be as supportive as being super involved in organizations because you're losing that academic time a little bit.
Mahika 00:14:14 Like Alayna was saying, we only have 24 hours in a day and you can't really use all 24 of them. You have to sleep, you have to eat and at some point you need to make sacrifices. And so I think that that's something that many student leaders or many people who are highly engaged deal with. And I guess I would say that if you are truly passionate about something, you'll make time for it first and then second it is, you know, at the end of the day it is an organization and you can only make as much of an impact as you can before your own battery dies out. And you need to be able to be fully charged and fully ready to make those impacts and do everything that you're so passionate about. And for you to do that sometimes I think taking a step back can be helpful. Uh, so that's what I would say to that.
Sean 00:15:04 So you both bring up kind of an interesting point around time management and work-life balance and passion and obviously that can help drive you through these times, but essentially you, you do have to recharge. And so I would love if you could both talk about, you know, Alayna, you've been outta school for a few years, Ika you're in your last year, so you can kind of reflect back on the last couple years. What skills do you think you've learned from the different clubs and and study abroad trips and other involvements that you've had?
Alayna 00:15:31 The main skill, like when reflecting upon my time as a student specifically and being involved was that has carried on throughout my life is the skill of showing up, which is so much of succeeding in life. And it sounds really simple and I know they make a joke when you go to any like workout class, they're like, congrats you, you made it, you did the hardest step of the entire workout like you showed up and I like roll my eyes. But there it's so true. And at Penn State I showed up in situations even when there's like a fear in the back of your head telling you like that's gonna be awkward for you to go to a loan or those are those people from this thing, they don't like you or you don't know anything about that everyone knows more than you, you won't get that leadership position anyway.
Alayna 00:16:14 Why would you even try to get involved in that group? But you have to fight those thoughts and just get there and then that's how you actually get things in life. And, and that was really, really meaningful experience that allowed me to keep doing that out of college as well. And a second skill that builds on that a little bit is just, is people skills interacting with all different types of people in a bunch of different ways. Things being thrown your way that you're not expecting while you're leading a workshop, you're mentoring someone, you're fielding questions that has been to date, one of the main differentiators I get called out on for at work, it was at my first job and continues to be today. Just being able to interact with people.
Mahika 00:16:56 To add to that, I think that one of the biggest skills that I learned was how to lead people obviously in a leadership position, but I really don't think that you understand and learn those things until you're put in a position that you have to do it. I think the biggest example of this is in South Asian Student Association, that organization has over 300 members and our board is 25 people. And so in leading that organization there's a lot that goes on with that. And you have to lead the directors as well as my own executive team, which is the vice president, secretary and treasurer and uh, all of the chairs and all of the freshman liaisons. And I think that for me, I found in these, in this position that it's not always easy at all and oftentimes it's very difficult and trying to find the, you know, the line between being friends with somebody because I am friends with everybody in these organizations and being stern and being able to lead and being able to make those difficult executive decisions, uh, I think can be really difficult.
Mahika 00:18:03 So I've learned how to take what everybody is telling me and try to understand and hear everybody's opinions, but also being firm in what I see as the vision of the organization. And I think that that's a really important skill for anybody in the future because whatever position you're in, you're gonna have people you're working with, you might even have people that you're leading and being able to understand what everybody is saying but still being firm in your view and being set on what you wanna do is also important. So I think that that is one important skill I've learned. And then also I guess more of a technical skill, or not technical, but I've learned a lot of interdisciplinary skills. I am actually doing an event that combines Strive for Women and South Asian Student Association. We invited President Pudi to come speak at a semi-professional development dinner and it's gonna be a large scale event, which I learned from South Asian Student Association combined with a professional event, which I learned from Strive for Women. So I think that learning how to combine different interests and different aspects of your life is something that everybody also will end up doing in the future at some point. And I think that I wanna continue doing this, I wanna continue to have my interests and my career path and everything intermingle and combined. So I think that learning how to figure out your strengths in multiple areas, I have experience leading extremely large scale events, but then I also have some experience with professional development and then combining those is a really rewarding experience.
Sean 00:19:39 So you raised a really interesting point there, Moheka, Alayna, you had said a lot of people skills and that's one of the biggest things you took away and you mahiki you highlighted the technical skills of like event planning and organization and obviously I think an underlying one and all of those things is, you know, managing your email inbox and that's probably just a given, but I'd love if you could both talk about, you know, you get elected to be the president or the director, whatever different title in these clubs and organizations and it's one thing to watch the person before you, but then it's a whole other to now be in that role. So what resources did you use to figure out your way because you know, you might be in that role for a year before your, you know, student organization you're passing the torch on before you <laugh> just as you're maybe getting into your groove. So what kind of resources and opportunities did you look for, take advantage of to find your way in the beginning of those leadership roles?
Mahika 00:20:27 I feel like I relied a lot on the people that came before me in these leadership positions. I still talk about with my friends and try for women to this day about how cool we thought that the older Schreyer for women board was. And so I think they left us a lot with transition materials, which I think is important for any organization. And so I refer to those. I also have their contact information and I reach out to them if we have any questions. And for Sasa we have senior advisors who were on board last year and so I reached out to them and asked them, you know, advice on everything. I also think I did a lot of my own research looking up how to lead, you know, different kinds of organizations. Uh, I researched leader leadership styles and I'm a very organized person, so I made a list of all the roles that I wanted to elect after I became president and the rest of the executive board got their positions and I wrote down descriptions of each role and how I see everything I guess unfolding.
Mahika 00:21:33 And then I also wrote out a tentative schedule for both Sasa and Schreyer for women. And this helps to guide the whole club and this is what we're gonna do at this time. And it's, they both are very flexible schedules, but just to have an idea before we start planning for everything to be kind of a base for everybody on the board to work off of. So I think, uh, I, I really like to organize a lot and I use that as a helper for me in starting these positions. And then I, I did really rely on a lot of previous people in the positions
Alayna 00:22:08 Similar for me. I did a lot of research on my own and looked at people around me to see what they were doing, whether it's how did Lisa Kinski email me or how did she organize this, this newsletter that goes out and should I do something like that for this position? You know, and, and, and then looking at my professors, how do they do their lessons? Like I just tried to to look around me and then also research a lot. Now I have the, you know, the hindsight, what I probably should have done more of was asking for help because there are so many people around you who want to help you. Like Mika's describing, you know, the students who are more senior than her, they definitely wanted to help people and develop them so then they could carry on the organization that they were leading. So your peers wanna help you, like the faculty and staff wanna help you. Even alumni, like as an alumni, if someone, this is something I do on our, um, scholar alumni Society student engagement committee. We help student leaders, alumni wanna help students. So I think I wish I did more of a asking for help than just trying to figure out everything on my own. And I would definitely recommend that for other students who are trying to figure out how to start.
Sean 00:23:18 So those were really, really good points. I love the balance of trying to figure some things out on your own, looking to the modeling of others. Moheka you know, you mentioned some of the, the founding members of schreyer for women who are a little bit older than you, Alayna, you name dropped. Lisa Kti, who I think we name drop on probably every other episode of the show. She's a fantastic resource and just looking at what your professors do, I think that's really good and, and asking for help is obviously great. And here in the college, we're here to help you. You have a club advisor, you have to have one of those so, you know, talk to that person and and use them. Now I wanna go back to something earlier you said Moheka about reaching for these roles and Alayna you had said, you know, don't be afraid to, to reach for these things. And when we had our prep call, Moheka, you shared a story about running for an officer role in Sasa, I believe it was, and you didn't get it, you know, and you know, I think as Schreyer scholars we are very achievement oriented. We want to take the opportunities we want to lead, but sometimes you don't get what you're going for you, you get rejected, you get set back. So how did you deal with that and learn from that situation?
Mahika 00:24:16 My sophomore year I ran for the position of secretary and Sassa and I was super excited about it. Uh, and I think when I ran for it, looking back on it, I think I was very convinced that I would get the position. So I, I didn't really, I don't know if I put like the most time into my application and I don't know if I really wanted it at that point looking back on it. And so I ran for it and I lost against another person. And I remember after that I was devastated and I told one of my best friends that I'm not gonna be in the organization anymore because I feel embarrassed and I was upset that I lost. Again, as you said, being a Schreyer student, we are very achievement oriented. And so I just felt ashamed and embarrassed and I didn't wanna be a part of it because I lost that position.
Mahika 00:25:09 And then she told me that I should try harder and I should focus on the club and what, you know, think about why I joined the club in the first place. It might've been eventually to get a leadership position, but that's not the ultimate purpose of why I joined the club. I joined the club because I'm passionate about it and I love my culture. And so I took that as a learning opportunity and I joined the board again as an events director instead of an events chair. And I really worked very hard that next year in making my place in the organization. I, I went above and beyond my position as events director as talked to the executive board directly multiple times. I was the primary contact for many artists. We have large scale events with artists that are international. And so I was the primary contact for those artists and I ran some of the events, especially towards the end of the year.
Mahika 00:26:08 And then eventually I thought to myself and I was like, I really love what I'm doing right now with this organization and I, I think I wanna run again. And it was actually interesting because the same person that I lost against wanted to run for president originally and then he ended up saying that it was a lot of commitment and he didn't necessarily wanna commit to that his senior year of college and he ended up stepping down and he told me that I would be a really great president. And so I think that brought everything together and um, you know, I saw that I failed at something like that originally and then I realized that it was, because that wasn't the time for me to be on the executive board and for me to develop the passion that I do for this organization now and the love of this organization, I think I had to go through that setback where I didn't achieve something and I worked harder and worked twice as hard to finally achieve what I did today.
Mahika 00:27:08 I think that I always try to tell people that whenever they end up not getting something or not achieving something, I think it's a story that really changed the way that I viewed student leadership. At least in my mind. I didn't view it as something that was almost expected, but something that I really had to work for and something that I really had to develop to be able to be in a position of power like that. I'm not gonna lie, it was very difficult at first and I, I did not wanna be a part of the organization at first, but I think that eventually I was resilient and I got over it and I'm now in the position I'm today, which is really cool.
Alayna 00:27:47 Yeah, and I, I will say for that mahi, it's so much better to have that big failure earlier on in your time, whether it be as a student or even, you know, waiting until you're in your career because the earlier you get used to, I guess someone may consider, you know, not getting the position of failure. Sure, I might not consider it a failure, but we'll call it a failure. The more you get exposure to those things, it's just going to be so much better for you as you navigate and take risks as you go on in your career, in your personal lives. I like, for me, it took a really long time to have that first big failure and it was even harder because of it. So because you form more of an identity of who you think you are and, and that you're not, you don't fail. I'm not, I don't fail and then it's very, very hard to come back from that later on and I, so I do commend you for having that experience and I'm glad you, you learned from it.
Sean 00:28:40 Alayna, I wanna ask kind of your additional opinion on this question, but from a different perspective because earlier you mentioned you might need to rack up some nerve to run for a role like that and really put yourself out there, whether that's to volunteer for a specific task or run for secretary or president or whatever different role is there. So for students who are maybe a little bit shyer and a little bit maybe stared to put themselves out there and maybe feeling that imposter syndrome, I know that's kind of become part of the lexicon. How would you recommend that they steal themselves up to put themselves out there if it really could be a great opportunity and a good fit for them to support their club?
Alayna 00:29:17 This is another common thing that I, like one of my taglines, I find myself saying a lot to students that I learned from a mentor and it's a little extreme, but I remember saying this on a Schreyer for Women panel I was on years ago and then a student coming up to me like two years later and telling me, oh you said that and it made me go do this program. I was scared to do it and it changed everything for me. So the the thing is when you're in that situation asking yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if I do this? And then thinking, what would I do if that worst thing happened? And then realizing that you probably would have the ability to cope with whatever happened. And so when you bring yourself through that experience of visualizing that and you realize that you are capable, you have all the things you need to deal with, maybe it not going your way, then you have more confidence to take that risk because you, you feel more that you'd be able to handle if it doesn't succeed. Now
Sean 00:30:14 I, I wanna harken back to something we mentioned at the very beginning in an ideal outcome for a lot of participation in different organizations, whether it is THON or Schreyer for Women or the other literally thousand different opportunities that you have at Penn State is making friends with other members. But if you are leading a group, whether, you know if you're a president or a thon captain or, or anything in between, you know, sometimes you have to put on that leader hat, the boss hat if you will. Have either of you had an experience where you've had to balance the group's goals and a friendship where they may have come into conflict and how did you approach that?
Mahika 00:30:51 I can definitely start to speak on this. Uh, so I had a few experiences. One that I just recently had was the vice pre president of South Asian Student Association. She's one of my best friends. And I had a situation that, uh, we were having members sign up or an event and we had a capacity issue because we have 300 members and there's not always room for 300 people in one space. And so we had to basically cut off at a certain point and you know, we apologized about it and it was, it was very difficult for me because I want all of our members to be at every event, but that's not necessarily possible with the scale of the organization. And then my friend asked me if she could have a few of her friends come to the event and she is again one of my best friends.
Mahika 00:31:41 And so I felt like I was in a very difficult position because I wanted to say yes and I wanted to say, you can do whatever you want, bring your friends if you would like, but it's not fair to the other members who signed up, you know, ahead of time. And so I ended up telling her that and I felt really bad about it because she is one of my close friends. But I think at that point I did what was right for the club and I, you know, I did what was right for our members because it isn't fair that just because she's one of my really close friends, she gets to bring additional people to the event. And so that was a really tough moment for me. If you're not careful, I think that if you're friends with people in organizations and you are in a leadership role like that, it can hurt your friendship.
Mahika 00:32:25 And I think that, you know, making sure that you are separating your leadership roles from your friendships is very important. And I talked to her after that and I said, this has nothing to do with our friendship and it has nothing to to do with any of that. It's just about the organization. And I think reemphasizing that to your friends is really important for me, separating the two, um, as much as I can. And really, you know, separating both of them is very important and I think that that's a way that I tend to deal with that. But it is, it is very difficult leading your friends and I think that everybody probably has a little bit of experience with that. And at the end of the day, if you are honest with your friends about everything, uh, and you know, make sure that they know that what you're saying is for what you think will be for the best of the club at least, then I think that that's, that's what matters at the end of the day.
Alayna 00:33:19 I agree. I think sometimes it's, you know, inevitable you can't always keep them separate, especially as you continue on in your career and if you're doing something you really like in your career, you might become, or even if you're doing something you don't like, you know, you might become friends with people you work with and might be your boss, it might be someone who, you know, there's so many different things that could happen. So one thing that Mahika touched on is setting boundaries and learning how to do that even though it can be uncomfortable, the more you do it, the easier it gets. But there are not to make it binary but wrong and right ways to do it, there are more successful ways of doing it and other ways where you might, I don't know. So learning how to set boundaries, especially as you navigate being friends and, and being in a professional role with your friends is important and one skill is being objective and doing what you think is right in that situation and, and using that as a reason for why you're doing it. And avoiding two subjective situations where you're ha having to overexplain yourself or it becomes personal. So just trying to take a step back and feel confident in your understanding of what is right and doing the right thing in those scenarios and then explaining that to someone in a pretty objective way can can be successful. And I think it avoids some arguments or things becoming overly personal, but it's certainly a skill.
Sean 00:34:42 Ika and Alayna, I think those were really good points on balancing friendships and Alayna, great advice on how that translates later on into the working world. You can become friends with your boss or colleagues or suppliers and different folks and you know, sometimes there are some ethical dilemmas that you run into. So I think that was really helpful to hear. Now another thing you need to balance of course is your academics. And Alayna, you and I both, we wrote our thesis, we write in the gong and moka, you're in the process of writing yours or if you haven't started you, you will very soon. So how do you find that balance with your academics, which is again, I said earlier, but that is the primary reason you are here, it's the a in the ABCs of our mission statement, your student leaders student comes first. So how did you balance that or currently find balance?
Mahika 00:35:25 Going back to what Alayna was saying about having boundaries is really important in try for women and Sasa, we always say that academics comes first. And so if somebody is having a really stressful week or if somebody has a lot of exams coming up or cannot attend an event because they have exams, cannot run an event because they have exams, uh, we take that into consideration and we make sure that everybody knows that from the get go. And so I think that creating those boundaries in your organizations if they're not there already or being the person to step up and say that that's something that's really important to you is the way to do that. And at least in Sasa and tryer for women, uh, everybody is very academically oriented. And so I think that that is the primary goal for most people. And we do emphasize that that is something very important.
Mahika 00:36:18 And at least for me personally, I think that if I really have to work on something academic, I will talk to the rest of my board and have some people take over certain tasks or for schreyer for women, I just elected a track for women chair, which is really excited for career development. And so even just last week I asked her if she could help me out with something because I was a little bit overloaded with academics. Again, going back to another point that Alayna made, asking for help from people around you is super important because I think as student leaders leader, sometimes we feel like we have to do everything and we have to really be on our position all the time and we can't ever, you know, step down. We can't ever take a break from our position, but this is not true. And I think that asking for help from other members or other people on the board of our organizations can really, can really help. And I feel like every person in the, in the leadership role in an organization should feel comfortable enough with everybody else to ask for these things.
Alayna 00:37:20 For me, one way of managing demands or you know, we go back to the whole 24 hours in a day, is tackling like this idea of perfectionism in your head and accepting that everything you do is not going to be perfect because it's just not possible. So kind of getting past that allows you to move into a place where you're operating without that heavy burden all the time. With all these mixed demands between school and involvement. And I, I will shout out as well, Mika, I love that as a leader you have committed to showing that, hey, as a principal we're going to prioritize academics over over our student involvement activities here because that is, that's critical, uh, to, to lead by example and ingraining that in your, in your organization's principles. But going back to just accepting that perfectionism is not possible and then being like, all right, I still wanna do a good job though, so how do I do that?
Alayna 00:38:19 And setting guardrails around what you're doing has been really helpful for me. Of course one way of doing that is time management. So saying, okay, I leader our student engagement committee. If I had 24 hours a day to give them, they would take it because there's that much fun stuff that we could be doing, but I don't, and your job will take that anything you're doing will take all of your time if you let it. So saying this is how much time I realistically actually have, I have two hours for this. What is the best use of that time? I want to do all these things. I personally like doing some of the things that are more or less value add, but what can I do that's going to have the biggest impact at that in that time? And so that's like, you know, your minimal valuable product, M P M V P, what can I do to just get something going? And that has been really useful for me in moving things forward, having an impact, understanding that we're not gonna be able to do it all, but let's just do the thing that gets us somewhere. And yeah, so tactically blocking time on your schedule and using that time and when you're done with it, that's the time that you have.
Sean 00:39:21 It's like you set up my next question perfectly, Alayna, because you both just offered some really good insights on mindset, perspective, philosophy, whatever you want to call it, around approaching these things and finding that balance. But on the flip side, sometimes you need some very tactical tools like calendars and apps and notebooks. What tools or strategies have you found help with those mindsets to be successful in finding that balance and leading those groups?
Alayna 00:39:47 It's funny you say that Sean, because we, the scholar alumni society actually just helped Schreyer for women come up with what are the tools that alumni are using to make our lives better and work personally. So we have so many tools and they did a a really cool workshop on it with their members. So Mexican are any tools, like I know in that workshop you all found that some of you use some task management tools some of you use, so what are some of the tools that you as students have found to be useful?
Mahika 00:40:17 There's so many tools on that, uh, that you gave us and they're also all organized by categories. That was really nice. <laugh>. I think for me, task management wise, I really like notion a lot. It's a very customizable tool and you can put all of your tasks on there. They also have a calendar so you can put, you know, all your, all your dates and times on there as well. I also like really collaborative tools. I know in my organizations we use Google Drive heavily. I know other organizations use Microsoft landscape a lot as well. And so I think very collaborative tools like that are very useful. Um, you know, being able to start a doc or start a spreadsheet and then having somebody else hop on it once you get off of it would, I think that's a really great way to collaborate and, you know, work with an organization.
Mahika 00:41:08 I know we also use GroupMe a lot as a means of having a space for our members to talk to each other and you know, setting out member announcements. I think that that's a really good tool. Uh, and I also like Google Keep for task management, that's also a really great one. But I think mostly for me the Google landscape is very helpful because it just, it works on all devices and it is very collaborative. The nature of it has always been very collaborative and you know, you can share with any emails even if it's not a Gmail, which is really nice. Um, I know Alayna and I for our meetings we use uh, Google Meet and we use Google Calendar to schedule the meetings and that's also really nice way. So I think that the Google landscape is a really great tool for
Alayna 00:41:54 Me. Another piece around tool, like I use Asana for my task management, something that I have been very reluctantly adapting is there's so many ways to automate tasks now and I am just like, no, I'll just do it. I can do it faster, it's fine than me trying to set up an automation for this. It's not true if you're, you know, you can now they have these extensions and add-ons and, and tools that really automate these tasks. Like if you get something in your inbox, it will put it in your task list for you and then it will send this email for you and things trigger things. So I do suggest it can be frustrating to learn at first, but try to find some, if you find yourself doing repetitive tasks, maybe look into just Google, see if there's some auto automated extension for you. No,
Sean 00:42:39 Those are all really helpful. And even just in editing this podcast I've looked into and started using some hot keys where I press one key on the keyboard instead of going in through the menu and it's drastically reduced the edit time that it takes to trim out all the uhs and ums so that you have a much better listening experience. So I would definitely echo uh, Alayna's comments there about the little things that can add up in terms of time. Now the main goal of this podcast from day one has always been mentorship and coaching for students. So question for you both here is, and we've alluded to this a little bit, but how do you work with your club advisors or alumni or even just older students as, as resources for you and your student leadership roles?
Mahika 00:43:20 I think having an alumni network readily available is really important. I created a list of alumni from Schreyer for Women and um, Schreyer in general for Schreyer for Women. And we have this running list that I'll keep telling, you know, everybody that comes after me to add on to. And then similarly, in Sassa we created a LinkedIn chair position and so that person is dedicated to making alumni connections and connecting with alumni on LinkedIn and in other ways. And so I think that that's really important as well. We're trying to highlight what our alumni have been doing since they graduated. We're working on a project with that right now. Project having, you know, things in place like for example a chair, a person who can be devoted to alumni relations and then having documents or spreadsheets in place in the case for Strive for Women, I think are really good ways to connect with alumni and to be able to, you know, if their contact information is on there. You can ask alumni.
Alayna 00:44:24 I remembered my other tool, I'm gonna say it now if you wanna use it. The other tool is because of the world we live in, in with our phone and distractions and everything, I found I have all these tools that help me automate my life and make things go faster and be organized. But part of the challenge is me, because I will start doing something and then I get distracted because someone reached out to me for something else or something came into my head that I should have done this. And so then I lose focus on what I was doing. And I use use a lot of time being distracted. So finding tools, uh, which may just be practices for yourself to be focused and actually stay in the task that you're working on is really, really important. And I'm, I'm finding at work and with my peers, it's a, it's a very common subject of conversation of how we deal with it.
Alayna 00:45:13 So incorporating some of those, like those practices for yourself on how to stay focused on the task at hand is a tool that you should use. And then answering the other question, I have two suggestions or things that I have used in the past, which is one asking, so just asking someone for something. So I, I was just in my email looking something up from years and years ago and I saw me asking Lisa Ksky for something, which maybe don't ask her because I know she, everyone is asking her for everything but taking a step and thinking like I can ask people for advice and it just reiterates on all what we already discussed. And then the other piece is really being a sponge. So listening to what someone is saying when you're asking them. So if you're going to club advisors, alumni, older students to seek out advice, sometimes you can get very caught up in I do as well as how I'm coming across.
Alayna 00:46:07 What am I gonna say next? What should I do? What should I do? And you miss what they're telling you. So however that works for you, whether it's taking notes or after you talk to them, sitting down and just like dumping everything that you heard, actually taking some time to reflect on what they said is really useful. And the last piece is a really small step that has made a really big difference for me is when you're going to any event, when you meet someone they speak, just go and connect with them on LinkedIn after and say thank you so much, I really enjoy this. And then they're in your network and it could be a faculty, it could be a professor that you had for a class. Do that for all of your professors, do that 'cause then you just have this network of people that you can reach out to in the future and you never know when you might have a question about something and they might pop up and it's one of the major benefits of going to Penn State. So taking advantage of that I think is critical. These
Sean 00:46:57 Are all great resources and ideas for engaging with alumni as you're a student, as your alum, young alum and moheka. I particularly really like your idea of having a LinkedIn chair specifically not just a social media chair, but one aimed at LinkedIn for building up your alumni network. I think that's really smart. I've never heard that before. And if you're leading a club, you should steal that idea right now. But Alayna, you know we're talking about alumni and obviously you are on the executive board for the Scholar Alumni Society as one of our board members leading our student engagement committee. In fact, you're the first chair of that committee 'cause we kind of created it together. So can you just tell us a little bit about the Scholar Alumni Society and you know, what kinds of volunteer activities that students can look forward to when they become alumni and turn this whole thing full circle back to helping the current students.
Alayna 00:47:45 The scholar alumni society is awesome and I wish that I got involved earlier from when I graduated because when I graduated I was like, I don't wanna lose all of my Schreyer friends. I want a way to keep expanding my schreyer network and doing all the things I was already doing at college. And so by joining the Scholar Alumni Society or participating in its its activities you can do just that when you graduate and stay connected to alumni and be more connected in the years to come because your life will change, people's lives will change. The overarching mission of this society is to connect alumni, connect students and alumni allow alumni to stay connected to schreyer and a part of the Schreyer community that they really hopefully enjoyed while they were on campus. So some of the key activities that students can look forward to getting involved in upon graduating are, are different committees.
Alayna 00:48:37 So we focus on student engagement, how do we connect with students, alumni engagement, how do we connect alumni together? Many other things. And then we also have the alumni admissions interview program, which is super unique. Alumni get to interview students that apply for schreyer. So you get to do that virtually in person, depending, it's just such a cool opportunity to stay involved with the college. And another one is all these events that student organizations like Schreyer for Women put together where they want to connect with alumni. And some of them are run centrally by Schreyer, some of them are run by student organizations. But students, when you graduate after a few years in or even your first year in, other students are going to wanna hear from you, what have you learned, what are things like out there, what, what can you tell us? They want your, your knowledge and your wisdom. So it's a really cool way to stay involved. So when you graduate scholar alumni society get involved and I think you will like it.
Sean 00:49:34 I could not have said any of that better myself. So thank you for, for sharing that, Alayna, from your perspective, I can plug it all day as the person that runs it, but you live it. So I appreciate that and I would be remiss before we kind of move into the last little bit of our conversation today, Alayna, you had a very unique opportunity with THA and I don't wanna miss the opportunity to hear that story of how you helped revolutionize a key piece of the th weekend experience. If you can just share briefly a little bit about your, your contribution to Thet th legacy.
Alayna 00:50:06 Yes. I I really didn't realize it was that big of a deal until I think after the fact because it is super cool. We DJ'ed the first student th weekend, so it was a crew of us within the entertainment committee, the captains, and it was just us on stage DJing the whole weekend, everyone on, you know, everything that's going on. And before it was a different person, not a student doing it. And it was very different for us to do it. We also DJ I think 30 to 40 other events throughout the year. Like we just, they just did it all at once and it was awesome. I even, we DJ'ed an event in the cow milking facility that I think it's near the stadium, I don't know, but many different experiences.
Sean 00:50:48 Well, I think that is a cool legacy. I'm imagining that that was probably a big thing to figure out after many years of the same DJ and, and the organization taking a different direction. So really cool legacy there for you. Now the question I've started asking here in the show that I've found has been really helpful is, is there anything I should have asked you too about your leadership experiences with our different clubs or the alumni society that has impacted your story and your career? That I haven't thought to ask because of maybe a blind spot that I had. I,
Alayna 00:51:18 And it's on the theme of taking risks. What's the worst thing that can happen, et cetera. A SCHREYER was starting to debut their international programs and freshman year I got word that they were thinking about doing one in India. So I showed up to a meeting in the grandfather clock lounge with a few people, uh, again like, Hmm, I'm just gonna learn more about this. And then that was the last meeting. I got an email, I got my Visa and I went to India for like three weeks with five or six other students I really had never met except for 30 minutes grandfather clock lounge and as well as, uh, two schreyer staff. And it was the most transformational experience of my college career. It was freshman year. It changed the way I thought about everything and how I approached pur. I there, I could talk about it for so long, but if I didn't show up for 30 minutes in the grandfather clock lounge and go on this like Guinea pig program, that was also, no <laugh>. I don't think I can if I can even say this, but it was the first program. So, you know, I had a lot of wrinkles along the way. If I hadn't done that, it just, it, it would've really changed things for me. So it's about showing up, taking a risk, checking out things that maybe you don't even know if you'd like. But that, that's one I wanna definitely share.
Mahika 00:52:32 Mine is not nearly as cool as that <laugh>, but for me it's similar to that. Um, my freshman year is when I applied to be a freshman liaison for Sasa. And it's also, so originally for Schryer for Women, I applied to be a Girl Scout chair in the service pillar. And then I got that position and then I applied to be the career development chair for the whole year, the next year. And so applying to both of those positions as a freshman, I was extremely intimidated and I really did not think I was gonna get any of those positions. Uh, going into it, I kept telling myself like, it's okay if you don't get this position, it's just to apply. It's just to see. And then I think getting those two entry positions into those organizations really changed the way that I thought about those organizations and I was like, if they're gonna give me a chance, then I might as well take it and I might as well do what I want with this organization and I might as well go for it.
Mahika 00:53:32 And then I applied for subsequent positions in both of those organizations. That's almost like a, a piece of advice I have for freshmen and younger scholars. Even if you don't think that you're gonna get something or even if you're too scared to apply to something, you should just do it. Um, again, kind of like with what Alayna was saying, what's the worst that could happen? You don't get that position and then you move on and you figure something else out. But the best that can happen is that you get that position and then you really find something that you're passionate about and you can continue in that type of role and continue in the organization. So I, I think that me doing that freshman year really set the stage for my, my role as a student leader.
Sean 00:54:14 Now I wanna move into some just quick wrap up questions, little bit rapid fire here for you both quickly. What would you say is your biggest success that you've had in your career so far?
Alayna 00:54:25 I was going to say DJing the first student. DJ th but we already hit on that so I'm sticking with it.
Mahika 00:54:31 I would say running the Garba event, which is a festival for South Asian Student Association. We had around 600 people show up to that and we had food for that and we had artists and I ran it. So I'm really proud of that.
Sean 00:54:48 And honestly, we could probably do a whole sequel episode on this ep uh, to this one just talking about the difference between positional versus relational leadership and authority. We could talk about event planning and you know, when you have an event for 10 students versus 600, it is a very different kind of game that you're playing there. So, uh, lots more that we could have talked about. But I'm glad that that was something that you're very proud of Moheka. But on the flip side, what was something that you each thought was a big learning moment in your career and what you've taken from it?
Mahika 00:55:17 I think what I said before about my setback was a big learning moment for me and I guess to add a little bit to that, um, there are a bunch of minor setbacks. I also had, right now I'm actually my event for President Ben, I'm actually unable to find a room. Uh, and I already advertised the event and I'm in the process of trying to figure out which room to get and I know I'm gonna find one eventually and it might just not be as easy as I thought it was gonna be. So I'm dealing with a few of those minor setbacks right now. Those are all the little things of being a student leader. Little, little things that you have to deal with. For
Alayna 00:55:55 Me, looking back as a student, my biggest, it was a setback but it was something that it happened was I did a lot of student involvement activities because I thought I should be doing them. And I wasn't aware that, you know, just 'cause I should be doing something doesn't mean that that means I have to. So I wound up doing things that I didn't really wanna do or maybe didn't care about or there were other opportunities that I could have spent my time being involved in. And that's why I feel very strongly that students, you know, balance doing what you think you should be be doing because it makes sense for what career you're trying to go on. As well as making sure you're keeping space for the things that you really like, that you just have that gut feeling for, that you care about because there's a reason you feel that way and you'll probably be really good at it if you, if you like it and you care about it, it gives you a bit of a superpower. So I'm not telling you to drop everything but you know, keep a balance, do do both.
Sean 00:56:44 That's really good advice. And moheka, I think it's something to take from your example, pro tip, always secure your venue before you start promoting an event. Just, just putting that out there as somebody who plans a lot of events in, in their job. Now I'm gonna skip my mentorship question 'cause we've talked about that quite a bit already. So I just wanna give you both a chance if there's any professors or friends that you wanted to give a quick shout out to while you're here on the show
Mahika 00:57:09 For professors, I would like to give a shout out to Dr. Topper. She was my freshman year biology professor and then also Dr. Holman was my English teacher and she taught me a lot of professional writing tips that I now explain and tell to all the members of Sassa and Schreyer for women. And then my roommates who are also in Schreyer and my best friends, Radha and Emma and Kara. And they're all student leaders as well in different trier organizations.
Alayna 00:57:39 I will shout out Scholar Alumni Society of course, and everyone that's involved because that has made being an alumni so special that people still wanna be involved. Second, we'll shout out the Schreyer staff, including Sean. I think I already said Lisa Ksky quite a few times. So everyone else as well. And then of course my fellow alumni that I met within the first week of, of college, Shirley, Jamie, Maria. I'm not joking when I tell you that they're still my best friends. I randomly met them, I saw one of them yesterday and I'm seeing the other two this weekend when I go to Philly for something like, it's just crazy how, how integral some of the relationships you build at Schreyer can be. And so I'm very thankful for that.
Sean 00:58:23 Well I appreciate the shout out to the staff. We're here for you listening. Our our jobs revolve around supporting you so you know, if you need something, come talk to us. I think I've kind of already asked this, but is there any final piece of advice that you want students to walk away from if they've listened this far?
Mahika 00:58:40 I just wanted to bring up that I think when people think of leadership, you think of somebody who's really outgoing and talkative and out there. But I did wanna bring up that if that's not your personality, it doesn't mean that you can't be a leader. I was thinking about this a little bit earlier in the conversation, but some of the best leaders that I know in my organizations are the most silent ones. And so even if you feel like you might not have the quote unquote personality to be a leader, you can. And just because you not might not be as talkative or as loud as other people, that doesn't mean you can't make an impact. So I just wanted to bring that up.
Alayna 00:59:20 Yeah, I think think that's a great point Ika, because it's true and on that theme as you are a student and and navigating how you're gonna be involved and what are you gonna do with your time at Penn State, I would say feel free to challenge things that don't make sense to you. There's a reason why you feel that way. And it's been so cool to see students and what they've created at Schreyer since I've graduated, just being like, this is missing. Our community needs this. What if we did it this way even though we've already always done it the other way. And take those opportunities when you get that feeling of like, this could be better. Like we should do this differently. And that involves like challenging what the stereotype of a leader is like and, and welcoming. Like maybe when you are, maybe you are in a leadership position already and you are evaluating the future leaders that will take over your organization, challenging that, that stereotype and, and trying to make a change for the positive because it's in your hands as students. You are the ones who are students today and you will pave the way for, for the future.
Sean 01:00:23 If a scholar wanted to reach out to either of you, and particularly in your case Moheka, to learn more about the different clubs that you're a part of and how they can join or come to your events, how can they connect with each of you?
Mahika 01:00:33 Uh, so my Penn State email is mp3 seven psu edu and then I'm on most social medias as well. It's just my first like name, Mahika, last name, all one word on most social media.
Alayna 01:00:49 Awesome. For me, I think LinkedIn is best connect with me. I, like I said, I like expanding the network and then we can also chat.
Sean 01:00:56 And finally, as this tradition here on the show, a bit of a silly question for you both. If you were a flavor of Perky creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as either a current scholar or a scholar alumna, why would you be that flavor?
Alayna 01:01:09 I was thinking this question was that what's your favorite flavor of, of the ice cream and I
Sean 01:01:15 No, no, no. It is not what your favorite flavor it is. What would you be <laugh>, because that is way more in depth.
Alayna 01:01:22 That is way more in depth because I was gonna say that
Sean 01:01:25 This is the honors college after all this is like the ice cream question as an honors option.
Alayna 01:01:30 Okay, I'm gonna still go with this anyway. I would be think I've had like one bite of ice of ice cream from there before. I don't love it. Like the obsession I, I know that's like sacred, but I was obsessed with the cereal bar at Pollock, so I would be the cereal at Pollock because even when I went on my tour for Penn State, I asked who Joe Paterno was. I do identify a lot of me like not understanding general, like very common Penn State traditions and their meaning. So I'll be the cereal bar at Pollock.
Mahika 01:01:59 I think I would be a coffee break. It is my favorite flavor, but I think, you know, it's sweet but it's also energizing because it has coffee in it and I find myself to be an energizing person. Hopefully the people around me think that as well.
Sean 01:02:16 Fantastic. We've got an answer that I know is probably our, our most, one of our most popular options on here and one that I literally never would have expected as an answer. <laugh>. So you heard it, you heard it there. Alayna, Mahika, thank you both so much for spending some time with us today and talking all things student leadership. I know we probably could have talked for double whatever the, the length of this episode turned out to be. I really appreciate all of your insights. If you're current student, make sure you connect with them, lean on them, and like they said, other alumni that are here to help you.
Alayna 01:02:45 Thank you so much Sean, and thanks Mahika. I know, I, I was like, I'm not doing this without Mahika. We need, we need a, a student on here to talk student engagement. So thank you so much.
Mahika 01:02:56 Thank you so much Alayna. And thank you so much Sean for everything. Alayna, we appreciate your alumni advice on everything we do. I could not be the student leader I am without you and Sean, thank you so much for having us on here. This was a really rewarding experience.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
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