Drake Leadership Lessons and Experience: Classroom, Situation Room, War Room

Ian Weller, Class of 2012

Graduation. Completion. In a few short weeks, I’ll transfer the tassel on my graduation cap from right to left and throw the hat in the air; then my friends, family and I will celebrate the joyous end of an era.

Then I’ll start doing push-ups.
Lots of push-ups. 

While my friends may take the summer off before going on to pursue graduate school and careers in actuarial science, education and music, I will be enrolled in the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School. And through what I’m sure will seem like an extreme amount of push-ups, morning runs and verbal abuse, I’ll be broken down. Then I’ll gradually be built back up in preparation for my second graduation. Graduation from the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School comes with more than a promise of adventure; it also comes with the commitment to service, sacrifice and an allegiance to the core values of honor and courage.

At 22 years old, I will be stationed as a Surface Warfare Officer aboard a warship and will be legally and morally responsible for new sailors fresh out of high school. When I consider what I’m about to do, a host of emotions well up: nervousness, pride, excitement and an aggressive confidence. I think the confidence comes from feeling prepared — for this, I credit my leadership experiences at Drake.

While attending Drake, I have been blessed with numerous leadership opportunities: some on campus and others halfway around the world. Although I consider my experiences pretty extraordinary, I’ve concluded that almost every cocurricular activity is a learning lab in leadership. From day one, first-year students join organizations led by older students. We watch these leaders and learn what to emulate and what to improve upon as we develop our own leadership skills. In some cases, students gain experience planning major events and managing large budgets for their student organizations. In other cases, students make miracles happen simply through their ability to influence others. In both examples, students are learning some exceptional leadership skills.

For me, the highlights of my leadership experiences at Drake were being elected as founding president when Pi Kappa Phi fraternity returned to campus, serving as a resident assistant (R.A.) in Crawford Residence Hall, helping to lead an evacuation from Egypt and starting a military career with the U.S. Navy. Each of these experiences has taught me something valuable that I’ll bring to my next position as a new Navy officer and to other leadership roles that will follow.

When my colleagues and I restarted the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, we made mistakes as well as celebrated success. From this I learned the importance of being surrounded by people who

support you and who are working toward a common goal. The men who were by my side have a special place in my heart, and it is an honor to call them “brother.” It is an even bigger honor and point of pride to see what the fraternity has grown into. The best organizations look to the future. My brothers and I did this by keeping our vision for future generations of Pi Kapps at the forefront while we revitalized  the chapter. This motivation toward the future is common in many students at Drake and was recently summed up by my roommate Seejo Valacheril, Class of 2012, who said, “We want to make sure we leave Drake a better place than when we started.”

The goal of many leaders is to make themselves more or less replaceable  — or at least not always needed. I quickly saw the value in this when I was an R.A. in Crawford Residence Hall. It was move-in day and it seemed every first-year student needed my attention. My favorite memory is of one student who asked me what time curfew was. I couldn’t believe he was actually asking me when he should return to his room every night, so I sarcastically told him, “When the streetlights turn on.” Within two weeks, however, this student and all the others on my floor were taking control of their social programs, floor issues and even staying out past dark. I hope my sailors will be up to the same task.

When I was a junior at Drake, I learned several skills directly related to my future position as a U.S. Navy officer. As an international relations major and study-abroad student, I traveled the Middle East and honed my Arabic language skills. And although I never saw combat, my study-abroad experience allowed me (although inadvertently) to be close.

Having fallen in love with the land of the pharaohs during a short trip to Egypt with Mahmoud Hamad, assistant professor of politics, in summer 2010, I returned a year later for an entire semester. In spring 2011, I participated in a study-abroad program in Alexandria, a city in northern Egypt. After being there a short while, the Egyptian uprising began: I witnessed protests on a massive scale, drove by the riot police engaged in an alley, witnessed gunfire below my balcony, and in the mornings saw burned cars after evenings of rage. As I climbed onto my roof one night, I was overcome with tear gas — the government response to the Arab Spring. During a very long and at times frightening evacuation (over 36 hours from the “get your gear, and get going” call to leaving Egyptian airspace) I helped coordinate evacuation efforts and worked hard to maintain morale, minimize panic and keep my fellow students sane throughout the tumult.

Finally, one of my most recent leadership experiences at Drake is also one of the best — my time with the Army ROTC. Before joining, my only brush with the military was hearing stories about my grandparents’ service. Especially memorable is a story about my grandmother, who was stationed as an Army captain at Schofield Barracks overlooking Pearl Harbor on that fateful December Sunday. So when I trained with the ROTC as a noncontracted cadet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found were exemplary students, many of whom had already seen combat. These men and women were living out their personal values and holding themselves to the highest
standards. They were practicing the tenets of leadership
I hope to bring to my next position.

As I’ve been preparing for my next step in life, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my college experience (the importance of reflection is something I learned at Drake). In doing so, I’ve realized that Drake not only taught me about leadership but also allowed me to experience and practice it. From the fraternity chapter room to the sands of a revolutionary Egypt and to whereever the waters of Naval warfare may lead me, I have been eternally blessed. Great leaders have shaped me, and with a Bulldog pennant stowed in my sea bag, I pledge to continue the tradition.

Ian Weller, Class of 2012

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