When “Charlotte” graduated with an undergraduate degree in Data Science from Luddy Indianapolis and landed a job as an analyst at a local telecommunications company, she was unaware of the difference she could make in her community with the skills she harnessed and sharpened while in school. The company she worked for encouraged Charlotte, along with her co-workers, to volunteer at a company sponsored day of service event with a local community center to support their out-of-school time programs for children. Inspired by her volunteer experience with the community center that day, Charlotte returned to volunteer the next week after work, then the next, and so on. As she became a beloved volunteer at that community center, she learned from some of the organization’s senior staff that the organization was struggling to raise money to fix much needed repairs to the center. The biggest barrier to receiving funding was, and I hope you are sitting down: DATA! Immediately, Charlotte offered her data analysis skills, voluntarily, to help the organization better tell the story of their impact. They received the grant, and Charlotte shed tears of pride at the ribbon cutting when they unveiled the newly renovated community center that she was so instrumental in actualizing. Charlotte is every Luddy student.
Leadership Is Action, Not Position
Like Charlotte, every Luddy student has the capacity and skills to step up and lead positive change in their communities. Early in my career, I founded the Indianapolis office and currently serve on the national board of directors of Public Allies. Public Allies is a movement committed to advancing social justice and equity by engaging and activating the leadership of all people. Public Allies believes that everyone leads: that leadership isn’t a position, but actions we take. Through this, I have come to know that leadership is like a muscle that everyone has. You have the muscle. Your colleagues have the muscle. We all have the muscle. Like other muscles, our leadership muscles atrophy if we do not exercise and fuel them. However, when we marry our gifts and talents with the hopes and dreams of our neighbors, our leadership muscles grow and thrive in the power of community.
Public Allies also offers six critical values to inform everyone’s leadership practice. I have found these values very effective in my leadership journey and hope you will find them valuable as well. Diversity and Inclusion: It is not only important to make sure the proverbial (and often literal) tables you sit at represent the cultural, racial, and ethnic make up of your community but that everyone at the table is valued and treated with relevance. Integrity: There is a right and a wrong, but those choices can be complex and challenging. It is always critical to act responsibly in work and in life. Focus on Assets: The glass is both half-full and half-empty, but it is our fullness that is necessary for any change effort. Collaboration: There is more power in “us,” and it is important to do the difficult work of building consensus and going together towards a better tomorrow. Continuous Learning: There is no endpoint to learning, and the way to stay on top of the best in yourself and your community is to always be open to reflections, growth, and development. Innovation: Effective leadership is driven by the hunt for new solutions to critical problems.
Developing Leadership: The Polis Center and Luddy Indianapolis Connection
At The Polis Center in Luddy Indianapolis, we have the privilege of experiencing the power of Luddy students as they exercise and flex their leadership muscles every day. The Polis Center is an applied research center that supports community development and quality-of-life efforts, natural disaster resiliency, and population health management using geospatial technologies to integrate, manage, and visualize the rapidly growing information on the places where we live and work. Throughout 2023, we hosted over 100 student interns in paid internships to support the numerous and diverse research and analysis projects we have with community rooted organizations in Indiana and across the globe. Some students leveraged their UI/UX knowledge to help communities design critical information. Other students powered our analysis with their freshly acquired research techniques that helped community leaders become more data-informed to address the challenges in their communities.
There are several roles that we engage student interns with and provide an environment to fail forward, learn, and, ultimately, strengthen their leadership muscles. All the while, our interns provide a real and valuable benefit to the communities served by our work. We also support all students with access to SAVI, an on-line data platform that offers a full suite of services to help turn data into actionable information. Students can use SAVI to begin exploring the intricacies of their community in Central Indiana and even begin their data-informed leadership journey.
The skills, attributes, and competencies flowing out of Luddy Indianapolis through our students, faculty, and staff are deeply necessary for this ever-evolving society. As our world experiences new challenges and struggles, I am convinced that it will be the power of Luddy Indianapolis and the leaders in this place that will find the solutions and innovations continuing the legacy of our community. Like the hypothetical story of Charlotte, every Luddy student has the capacity and skills to step up and lead positive change in their communities. We need them now more than ever.