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Alumni Spotlight: Jason Soucy Tilley

Our first alumni spotlight for March 2020 is Jason Soucy Tilley, a graduate of South Effingham High School (2005) and of University of West Georgia (2009), and University of Texas (post graduate, 2011). He is a Multi-site Apartment Community Manager at MAA (Mid-America Apartments) in Nashville, Tennessee. Jason says that during his time at 21CL’s summer institutes, he developed a newfound sense of confidence and ability to network with proficiency.

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

I am currently a multi-site apartment community manager, managing as many as 748 apartment homes and over 1,200 residents. Outside of management, I serve as a committee member of our company’s corporate charity, the Open Arms Foundation, serve in a regional leadership training role, and I am on several committees within our apartment association. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my spouse and our dogs in our Nashville home, hiking, cooking, and volunteering with our local United Way chapter.

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

Growing up in a low-income family, I did not have access to many opportunities to build professional skills. I was also very shy and somewhat awkward. 21CL came along and completely changed that. Over my time at the summer institutes, I developed a newfound sense of confidence and ability to network with proficiency. As a result, I find myself today seeking opportunities to further develop my network and professional skill set to better myself and others.

How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. What skills/tools/perspectives have helped you along the way?

During my summer institutes, I learned how to have productive conversations, manage conflict, appreciate and embrace diversity, and speak with confidence in public. These skills prepared me for college, where I held leadership positions—including a presidency—of two student organizations by the end of my first year. After graduating, I utilized those skills in graduate school, where I was elected to similar leadership opportunities. The drive that 21CL helped build within me has led to today, the time in which I find myself a successful professional with a large network and numerous opportunities to better myself and those around me.

Which programs did you participate in, and when? What skills did you gain or improve through those programs?

I attended Summer Leadership Institutes at Southern Polytechnic State University (prior to its merger with Kennesaw State University) and Georgia Southern University in the summers of 2003 and 2004.

What was a memorable or ‘aha’ moment in 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peers, speaking in public for the first time, etc.?

I have two distinct 21CL “aha moments.” The first came during an event for which Dr. Beheruz Sethna, the president of the University of West Georgia, was the speaker. During this speech, Dr. Sethna presented about college readiness, the standardized test taking process, and admissions. It was a great speech! At the end of the speech, he allowed for questions. I found myself doing something I’d have never done before 21CL—I raised my hand to ask a question. With butterflies, I asked “How do you account for students with good grades who perform badly on standardized tests as a result of test taking anxiety?” I was so nervous, I don’t even remember his answer! But I do remember the support of my peer group, who applauded me for asking the question.

The second “aha moment” also is related to an act of courage. Our group leader, Era Hall (who was my biggest advocate), brought us to the Westin hotel in Atlanta. Which had a glass elevator going all the way to the top. Terrified of heights, I refused at first. She insisted I go and wouldn’t let me say “No.” Her persistence made me cave, and I did. I survived. And, aside from taking a bold approach in my everyday leadership approach, I now have been to the observation decks of the Willis and Hancock Towers in Chicago and enjoy roller coasters.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

I consider my leadership style to be borne from 21CL and honed over time throughout college, graduate school, and my career. I would describe my leadership style as Servant Leadership governed by Three C’s: cool, collaborative, and caring. Remaining calm and level-headed has always been a natural strength of mine. However, 21CL taught me collaboration skills that form the cornerstone of my style. One of my favorite components of leadership is guiding my team or my peers to getting the answers on their own by remaining positive and uplifting and asking intentional questions for them to get where they need to go. Doing so leads to their own empowerment, which only makes them better. And eventually it becomes a beautiful, continuously enriching cycle.

I live by this leadership motto: “My goal is to make you so good at what you do that I become superfluous.” Thanks, 21CL, for making me so motivated to serve others that I desire nothing more than to work myself out of importance.