Sympascho Young, Biochemistry
Strong leaders are made, not born. Their leadership skills are honed through hard work, experience, and failures. I became a student leader because I wanted to impact the community around me and to improve student life for science undergraduates. During my four years at UofT, my leadership style has evolved and been refined with each experience. Although I still have plenty of room to improve, I believe my leadership has been effective due to three reasons: vision, empowerment, and reflection.
Successful leadership always starts with a vision. At the beginning of each year, I articulate my vision clearly to my club executives and teammates. I engage them with clear, ambitious, yet achievable goals. Rather than just telling what the goals are, I communicate why these goals are so important. For instance, during first term as president of the Biochemistry Undergraduate Student Society (BUSS), I made it very clear that my goal was first, to create events that would be more accessible to students in the major program and second, to increase our collaboration with Faculty and other life science unions. Why this was so important to me was because due to large class sizes, many life science students felt a lack of connection to the program. Through these events and collaborations, I wished to create a more vibrant and inclusive community for Biochemistry students. Due to a vision, each of our events had a clear purpose and focus. As the captain of the University College basketball team, I hold a meeting every year where, as a team, we decide how serious we are about winning versus having fun. It is only after we decide, that I start scheduling practices.
I also believe in the importance of mentorship and empowering others to become leaders. This is especially important since others need to take over my role once I graduate. Rather than dictating every decision for BUSS, I focus on nurturing the capabilities of the younger executives and giving them more opportunities to lead and make decisions. To facilitate such an approach, I give executives tasks that fit their skill-set and allow them full autonomy within their roles while providing guidance only when suitable. When given the opportunity, I find that my executives tend to exceed my expectations. Aside from BUSS, I also take pride in mentoring younger students. I served as a youth group mentor at my church for 3 years, piano teacher for 7 years, and frosh leader for 2 years. This year, I initiated the BUSS mentorship program and motivated 40 classmates to participate as mentors. Through this program, upper years are able to share their experiences and help younger students succeed in academics, research, and leadership. My hope is that through this mentorship, many of these younger students will be encouraged to become student leaders and mentors in the future.
I believe an effective leader must be open minded and reflective. As a leader, I never pretend to know everything. I constantly seek advice, feedback, and criticism from others. Early on in my tenure as BUSS president in 2013, I asked my executives how they viewed my leadership style. I recall my vice president telling me "You do too much by yourself. I sometimes feel useless not knowing where to contribute." Since then, I've learned to entrust my executives with greater responsibilities to find ways to empower them to lead. In turn, they are also more satisfied and motivated to work harder. Furthermore, I actively seek ways to incorporate feedback from Biochemistry students into future events and services. In realizing the importance of student feedback, I have also worked with Faculty to create an exit survey for BCH major students on improving the quality of the Biochemistry program for the future.
Although I am far from the perfect leader, I believe my impact on each organization can be measured by results. Under my leadership as captain, the UC basketball team improved from a 0-win season in 2011 to reaching the semi-finals with the best regular season record in 2014. Through my guidance as a piano teacher, 3 of my students have passed RCM exams with distinctions (-95- percentile marks). And during my two-year tenure as president and co-president, BUSS has gained a three-fold increase in social media membership (80 to 240) and 230% increase in events attendance.