What We Learned from the 2020 Pivot

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By: Nicole Meadows, Director of Programs and Communications

In a year of resets and restrictions, altered responsibilities and edited goals, obscured pathways and “to be determined” plans, it has been necessary to befriend resiliency. To embrace relevancy. To brace for impact. It turns out our impact was notable: the launch of a new summer leadership institute exploring the healthcare and IT workforce, provision for 284 high school students to attend one of four one-week summer programs and enroll in our online learning program Leadership Connect for the rest of the academic year at no cost to them, and leadership development and career exploration resulting in increased confidence and inspiration to take action and create change. Here’s what we learned by adapting 30 years of hands-on residential summer programming into a virtual space with 210 volunteers and a core mission to inspire youth to lead.

Leverage Diversity and Think Forward. 21st Century Leaders (21CL) has always been forward-thinking. Founded in 1989 by business professionals who saw a gap in the readiness and diversity of leaders within the workforce, 21CL’s mission to connect, transform, and inspire high school students across Georgia to leverage-diversity, explore career opportunities, and become leaders in their schools, communities, and ultimately the workforce is just as relevant in 2020 as it was over 30 years ago. Add to the mix the disruption of a global pandemic and the momentum of social justice response and it becomes necessary to embrace the notion that “Everyone can be a leader. You don’t have to be a certain gender, race, or nationality to be a leader,” as Jordan Tyler, senior at Georgia Connections Academy encourages. Connect young leaders to people of influence with whom they can relate, and connect them with those who are different – both will expand their perspective, encourage their potential, and motivate them to lead at any age and learn at every age.

Compassionate leadership is needed now more than ever. “I felt that the volunteers were concerned about us. They seriously empathized with the craziness of being a teenager in today’s world, and did not discount it. This is something missing in schools and many teens’ lives, so it was a breath of fresh air to see their compassion shine through,” says Morgan Byers, a rising junior at East Jackson Comprehensive High School, who attended our inaugural Healthcare & IT Institute (HII). Over the summer, volunteers led sessions covering change management, emotional intelligence, mental wellness and crisis leadership. Panel speakers like superintendents spoke of the challenges faced by virtual learning, such as providing community access to WiFi to ensure all students can continue learning. Corporate leaders spoke of their intentional response to Black Lives Matter and decisions to publicize their stance as a company because it is a responsibility of their influence and their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Among the turbulence and questions of this year’s unique climate, the answer and anchor is compassion.

Vulnerability builds trust. No man is an island, but it can seem that way if the mindset is independence. Just as we highlight teambuilding skills and the leadership value of leveraging diversity, we strive to promote authenticity. Honesty resonates with this young generation of leaders. Especially now when expectations of success are deconstructed and reconfigured. With our students, they specifically appreciated the candor of successful professionals who spoke about their obstacles and their failures. Madison Billings, senior at Westlake High School who attended the WarnerMedia Institute for Future Leaders, said about the transparency of the volunteer speakers that she “liked how open and honest they were. They didn’t sugarcoat anything and say everything was perfect. They told us what it was really like, the mental, physical and emotional aspect of their jobs.” It is humanizing. It says that we’re all in this together, doing the best we can. It gives permission to try and possibly (probably) fail and from that gift develop resilience.

Take the Risk. When schools switched to distance learning, and the college campuses that host our summer leadership institutes closed, and gatherings were postponed, we had a choice to make about our path forward. We determined to make order out of chaos. We knew it was important to be there for our students, and thankfully in the age of technology had the platform to do so, enabled by the support and involvement of our corporate partners, individual donors, foundations and Board. As Sarah Sims, rising senior at Chattahoochee County High School, says, “You have to be willing to take the risk and realize it is not about you. It is about what you can give to the community.” We were able to give inspiration, connection, and hope for the future to our state-wide community of students, and know they will in turn give to their own communities as leaders.

As we reflect on our impact of our 2020 summer leadership institutes, we look at the students who represent 21st Century Leaders. They chose to show up every day and give their best to the situation. They connected with each other through the screen and closed the distance with kindness to each other. They asked insightful questions, they solved problems, they articulated their experience and they face the future with confidence, knowing they are capable and equipped, and they are not on their own. Carley Cook, a senior at The Paideia School, says that “Leadership is not just based off of the leader but also the people being led.” If our students are any indication, we’ve done something to be proud of.

Learn more about 21st Century Leaders’ pivot, impact and future outlook in the 2020 Stakeholder Address, presented by 21CL’s Executive Director, Kate Hewitt, and Board Chair, Matt Johnson.

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21st Century Leaders Launches 4th Summer Leadership Institute

21st Century Leaders Announces 4th Summer Program Focused on Leadership within the Healthcare Industry

Piedmont Healthcare commits to 2 years of funding

ATLANTA – February 5, 2020 21st Century Leaders (21CL) announced today the launch of a fourth summer leadership institute as it starts its fourth decade of service to the state of Georgia. The launch of this new program is made possible from the support of corporate partners and individual donors thus far. 21CL is a non-profit organization that connects, transforms, and inspires high school students across Georgia to leverage diversity, explore career opportunities, and become leaders in their schools, communities, and ultimately the workforce.

21CL’s one-week residential summer leadership institute, Healthcare & IT Institute, will be held for 50 Georgia high school students from July 12, 2020 through July 17, 2020 on the campus of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. 21st Century Leaders is proud to have the following corporate partners, thus far, supporting the launch of this program: Attento Counseling, Piedmont Healthcare, AllHealth CHOICE, and Meadows Regional Medical Center.

“We’re always finding ways to serve and reach more students across the state of Georgia, diversify our career exploration opportunities, and identify the needs within our state,” said Kate Hewitt, executive director of 21st Century Leaders. “Healthcare is one of Georgia’s leading industry sectors and it’s critical that we’re exposing students to all of the career pathways available to them, and to develop a diverse pipeline of talent and leaders to create change and impact in this industry.”

Dr. Jyoti Sharma, Cardiologist, Medical Director of Women’s Heart Program, and Medical Director of Advanced Practice Providers at Piedmont Healthcare says she’s proud of Piedmont for not only stepping forward as the first corporate sponsor to support 21st Century Leaders as they launch their inaugural Healthcare & IT Institute, but also for committing two years of funding.

“Piedmont’s core promise ‘to make a positive difference in every life we touch’ applies not only to our patients, employees, and co-workers, but also to high school students across the state of Georgia.  Service to our community is at the heart of all that we do we and we hope that exposure to our institution and our values will inspire these students to become the next generation of healthcare leaders,” said Dr. Sharma. 

21st Century Leaders established a Healthcare Steering Committee led by industry professionals in summer 2019 to help launch and implement the week-long institute.  The 14 member committee, three of whom are 21st Century Leaders Alumni, is comprised of Machelle Baisden of Grady Hospital, Ray Cross of AllHealth CHOICE, Marie Cameron of Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Dr. Jacque-Corey Cormier of Georgia State University’s School of Public Health (21CL Alumnus), Ralph Donaldson of WiseThink Health Solutions, Dr. Shaneeta Johnson of Morehouse School of Medicine, Jesse Lindsely of Thrust Interactive. Amanda Mewborn of Navicent Health, James Nixon of Meadows Regional Medical Center (21CL Alumnus), Shane Owens of Thrust Interactive, Rhett Partin, Georgia Hospital Association, Dr. Jyoti Sharma, Piedmont Healthcare (21CL Alumna), Melissa Tymchuk of Northeast Georgia Health System, and Stephen Vault of WellStar.

21st Century Leaders is still accepting corporate partners and donations to help support this program launch and to eliminate as much financial cost to students. To learn more and get involved, please contact 21CL’s Executive Director directly at kate@21stcenturyleaders.org or 404-373-7441.

About 21CL’s Healthcare & IT Institute (HII)
Healthcare/IT Institute (HII) is a week-long dynamic and healthcare-focused leadership development program held the second week of July at Kennesaw State University. Each day of HII, students will develop their leadership skills while exploring different facets of the growing healthcare and healthcare IT business world through hands-on workshops with passionate professionals, networking opportunities and corporate tours. Students will reside in the dorms on the college campus for the 6-day, overnight program. All rising sophomore, junior, or senior Georgia high school students are eligible to apply. An online application and recommendation form must be submitted by March 1, 2020 in order to be considered for an interview and selection.

HII is just one of three summer leadership institutes 21st Century Leaders provides. 21st Century Leaders also partners with WarnerMedia for it’s Youth Media Institute, Georgia Power Foundation for it’s EarthCare institute, and multiple companies, including Coca-Cola Company, for it’s SYLI program at Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

About 21st Century Leaders
Since inception in 1989, 21st Century Leaders has served more than 14,000 diverse high school students from over 250 Georgia high schools. 21st Century Leaders is a non-profit organization that connects, transforms, and inspires high school students across Georgia to leverage diversity, explore career opportunities, and become leaders in their school, community, and ultimately the workforce. 21st Century Leaders launched it’s first summer residential program in 1991, and now provides year-round leadership development and career exploration programs, including leadership summits, an online learning platform, and school-based clubs. For more information about 21st Century Leaders, visit www.21stcenturyleaders.org.



Media Contact:
Kate Hewitt
Executive Director, 21st Century Leaders