The Last Summer Workshop: Teamwork


On Wednesday August 4, 2021, John Lof hosted its last official summer workshop, “Teamwork.” 


Led by Allison Surian and Utsav Awasthi, this workshop aimed to identify the skills required for a functional, cohesive group of working individuals. They identified teamwork as “the process of working collaboratively, to build a feeling of oneness.”


The opening icebreaker had members introducing their research “to a martian.” The goal of this exercise was to promote thorough and careful communication, so that students may be able to break apart complicated material, and create something more digestible to team members. 


The next activity brought visual communication to the forefront through a virtual game of pictionary. An artist was chosen to draw each round, while teammates had sixty seconds to correctly identify the image at hand. Without words or gestures, this activity promoted communication through an entirely singular medium. 


The last activity of the evening, trivia, required that members work as teams in order to answer riddles and engineering-based questions. This encouraged students to share their ideas and knowledge for a more rounded and dependable answer. 


This workshop placed great emphasis on collaboration through accountability, communication and commitment. It showed teamwork to be an effective part of leadership, and that constructive leaders must be able to work with their team.


Members responsible for putting this event together include Albert Tulli IV, Bala Swaminathan, David Etim, Devin McConnell, Tasneem Ahmadullah, Allison Surian and Utsav Awasthi.



Nuances of Being A Leader Workshop Recap


The Academy’s most recent workshop, “Nuances of Being a Leader,” took place on Wednesday, July 7th. 


This event was curated to openly discuss and understand the subtleties of leadership which are often overlooked or given little consideration to when developing skills. 


The seminar was designed to involve more interpersonal scenarios and outside-of-the-box thinking that wouldn’t be considered inherently “obvious.” 


As a result, the five key talking points included: Following, Speaking Skills, Inspiring Self-Motivation, Listening and The Impact of Failure and Success. 


These points were identified through a range of activities, which involved Charades, a ‘Codeword’ exercise, Role-Playing and Taboo. 

The interactive portion of the meeting bred four important takeaways all leaders should know: 1. When to Take a Step Back, 2. How to Communicate One-on-One, 3. How to Listen, and 4. How to Effectively Pass on Skills.  

Members responsible for putting this event together are Michael Reisert, Tori Danis, Pierre Fils, Uche Anene, I’jazz Muhammad, Sanyukta Patil, Mohamadreza Arab Baferani, Dana Hamed, Kyle Wade, Haarith Vohra, and Ibtihal Alahmadi.

Leadership in the Field

The “Leadership in Your Field” workshop was led by Mohammed Albayati and David Etim to examine the aspects of leadership encountered by aspiring graduate engineers in the academic and industrial workplace. 


Hosts divided members into breakout rooms so they could discuss leadership themes and construct a pertinent list of panel questions as a group. The themesmentorship, navigating hierarchy, platforms for leadership, democracy in the workplace and emotional intelligence—were then developed into summary slides for the panelists:


Doug Young, the VP Program Manager and Leadership Developer at Northrop Grumman, Armin Rad, the CEO and co-founder of Encapsulate, Leslie Shor, the Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education, and Dan Burkey, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Diversity.


The first theme explored connections between mentee and mentor-specific skills. Several of these shared core items—listening actively, building trust, encouraging others, and identifying goals—were discussed in greater detail by the panelists. Doug Young described, “at the end of the day, it’s about relationships and developing those connections.” 


Jim Collin’s pyramid of fundamental leadership—the highly capable individual, contributing team member, competent manager, effective leader, and finally, the top executive—embodied the ensuing theme of hierarchy. For reaching the pyramid’s highest level, an individual must be able to develop a company’s greatness through the “paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will,” according to Collins. 


The next theme explored how one can demonstrate leadership aspects in the field through various platforms. This includes leading projects, organizing study groups, or training and mentoring newer team members. 


The theme of democracy in the workplace discussed concepts such as equal opportunities and equal weight to the voices of employees of the same level. 


In the final topic—emotional intelligence—panelists encouraged students to understand, use, and manage their emotions in positive ways to effectively reduce conflict. The four pillars—self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management—allow leaders to develop a more connected and motivated company culture.


Each of these themes can help to guide better business outcomes, enhance morale among employees, and provide more productive teams. Leslie Shor advocates the greatest part of working as a leader to be “getting and giving constant emotional support.”



JLLA Hosts Leadership Philosophy Workshop


The “Leadership Philosophy” workshopplanned by Kyle Wayde and led by President Erik Ammermanntook place on Friday, March 26th. 


The aim of this workshop was to broaden members’ perspective of leadership styles and philosophies, so as to advance their sense of the role. They identified not only the responsibilities of a leader, but had the opportunity to develop their own leadership principles as well. 


The seminar was modeled after Family Feud, where each of the members were divided into rooms to participate in a “game show” of timed survey questions. At the end of the allotted time, the full answers were revealed and explained in detail. 


These challengesalthough difficultproved to be informative. While the survey questions ranged widely in scope, the elements of leadership philosophy were greatest by far. Included in this are the following: theory, attitude, guiding principles and behavior.  


Theory is essentially what a person believes, or the values they prioritize. Attitude is a reflection of thoughts and words, the aim of which being to bolster success. Principles are the priorities of a good leader, which should serve as the basis for all decision-making. And based on the preceding core ideas, behavior indicates how one must act in certain situations.

At the end of the game, the highest-scoring team was Mohammed Albayati and Bala Swaminathan.

Identifying Opportunities Workshop – A Huge Success!



JLLA member Albert Tulli hosted and planned the most recent of workshops, “Identifying Opportunities,” which took place virtually on Friday, March 5th. 


The focus of the seminar was to translate realistic problems into possibilities. In preparation, the members were advised to get more involved in volunteer work and to take greater initiative during networking opportunities. 


This guided a greater discussion of “sharing successes.” In this portion of the workshop, students were advised to share their accomplishments even the little ones as much as possible. In sharing our successes with friends and family, we develop positive affirmations for our good work. 


This idea was translated into online profiles and resume-building. Sharing on these platforms can open the door to greater possibility. As Erik Ammermann pointed out, “most potential employers search for a niche set of skills and experiences, so you’ll never know if you have what they’re looking for until you start sharing.” 


Tulli also advised that each member should “make themselves comfortable with being uncomfortable.” While this advice means something different to each individual, it’s important in itself. He continued, “we all need to be clear and honest with ourselves about what we want…if we hold ourselves accountable, we can start to learn from our mistakes, and become better for it.” 


This advice culminated into the later portion of the workshop, where the students were given case studies to solve. Members were divided into breakout rooms and given time to identify the case-specific challenge proposed, in order to then develop strategies and solutions. 


In the final minutes of the meeting, Tulli stressed the idea that, “once we self-evaluate, we can determine and engage opportunities that benefit ourselves.” 


JLLA micromanaging workshop goes virtual during the pandemic

The John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) is persisting with the Spring 2020 curriculum- Applying Your Leadership Philosophy– and hosting a second virtual workshop during the COVID-19 pandemic via Zoom.

JLLA member I’jaaz Muhhamad planned the virtual workshop on May 15, focused on micromanagement in the context of mentorship. Five experienced women in leadership roles attended the workshop to answer questions and train members to engage with effective mentoring techniques.

“One of my main takeaways was how key communication is to getting people to listen and mentor,” said I’Jaaz. “We also learned the difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsoring other people and their specific roles in interpersonal communication and relationships when it comes to power dynamics.”

Members had two hours dedicated to understanding the nuances of leadership and how individual leadership style can be applied in an effective way. Vice President of JLLA, Stephany Santos, said that viewing leadership on a more individual level can make for more genuine and effective mentorships.

Having leaders from both academia and industry provided insight into how these skills apply to their individual career goals. Muhhamad emphasized understanding “how to lead is never really about the leader; it’s about how the mentee is retaining the information given, if they even want to receive that information.”

JLLA President Randi Mendes lauded the guest speakers, because “one of the big things [JLLA is] trying to do is to develop the individual leader and help each person develop their strengths to be the leader they want to be,” she said. “This program aims to overcome the cookie-cutter version of what a leader is or should be.”

JLLA holds first virtual workshop on conflict resolution

John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) goes virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. During these difficult times, JLLA will be turning their Spring curriculum virtual using platforms such as Webex and Zoom. The group will be connecting members with training on conflict resolution, resource management, mentoring vs. micromanaging, and ethics vs. pragmatism. JLLA continues to work with speakers from and outside of UConn to lead these unique and highly individualized workshops.

On April 24, 2020, JLLA held its first virtual workshop titled conflict resolution. The workshop was planned by JLLA president Randi Mendes. This was the second workshop on conflict resolution for the group. She brought in speaker Donna Douglass Williams, J.D from the UConn Ombudsperson office. Donna has over 20 years of experience as an ombudsperson, attorney, mediator, trainer, facilitator, and presenter. She has also served as an Ombudsperson at the World Health Organization and as the Inaugural Ombudsperson for the Green Climate Fund.

Randi Mendes said that she felt that it was important to bring Donna into the workshop. “Conflict between yourself and others, as well as mediating conflict between those you lead can be a common occurrence.” She added, “Many, including myself, do not always feel confident in handling or approaching conflict. I felt it was important to give members of JLLA a platform to learn the skills they need to feel empowered to face it as future leaders.”

The two-hour training focused on changing the mindset of conflict and learning how to communicate effectively during the conflict.  She challenged the group to look at conflict as a problem two people are trying to solve, rather than the person as the source of conflict. She taught the group the different types of conflict response styles in order to explain how to communicate with others who may approach conflict differently.  These styles include competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Finally, she emphasized using non-violent communication (NVC) as a form of communicating through conflict. NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg as a “communications technique interceded to frame conversations that results in mutual respect, understanding, and the peaceful resolution of conflict”.

Member Erik Ammermann said, “the theme of controlling your mindset and emotions when approaching conflict and is something I will be conscious of in future situations. A conflict does not always need to be viewed in negative connotations as I thought previously but as something unavoidable and inevitable to be used as an opportunity to resolve issues in one’s life and grow through.”

The John Lof Leadership Academy’s Feedback Event

John Lof Leadership Academy members participate in a feedback workshop

Photo by Allison O’Donnell

By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

University of Connecticut graduate engineering students accepted into the John Lof Leadership Academy have the opportunity to promote the development of leadership and professional skills. 


In order to foster these skills, JLLA has created a focused curriculum entitled “Applying Your Leadership Philosophy” for the Spring 2020 semester. In this curriculum, students will focus on developing three transferable skills: leading, resource management and ethics. 


On February 4, JLLA members participated in the first workshop, which

 involved discussion of properly conveying information through exercises in giving feedback. 


A group of graduate engineering students working together to present a data set

Photo by Allison O’Donnell


In order to put these skills into practice, members were given an hour and a half to create posters relating to respective data sets: metal-music bands by country, states with the most UFO sightings, shark attack victims, pizza consumption by state and health ratings of cereal brands. 


JLLA members were required to think critically about: “what would make this information more engaging?” In addition to speculating: “what do consumers of this data want to know?”


As pictured below, groups decided on different visuals to best explain their findings when presenting to their peers. Feedback on the presentations pertained to the visual engagement and clarity of each infographic. 


The activity served as an exercise for JLLA members to receive feedback objectively and be open to criticism of maximizing their effectiveness. In addition, practicing being the giver of constructive criticism to their peers. 


JLLA members display their respective infographics after the feedback workshop on February 4. Photo by Allison O’Donnell


Julia Czarnecki, an Environmental Engineer, commended her peers’ creativity in using non-traditional methods of presenting information. Straying from the typical bar graph makes information more personable and engaging, said Czarnecki. 

Students interested in becoming a JLLA member can get more information about the application process through their page.

JLLA Leads Personalized Public Speaking Workshop

On January 21st, John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) lead their second workshop of the year. During this workshop, all members tested their ability to communicate on research, motivation, general talks, and pitches. Members prepared a 3-minute talk on their selected topic. Finally, after each talk, Dr. Chrysochoou, Dr. Maric, and other JLLA members discussed areas in which the talk could use improvement and how it was successful.

As engineering students, it is crucial to master the art of public speaking. This skill is not widely taught in many engineering curriculums and it is not often practiced by students. Therefore, JLLA closed this gap by creating an opportunity for its members to practice this skill. This event was led by members Pierre Fils and Mikayla Moody. The two new John Lof members led their committee in planning and executing this successful event.

Members voiced that they appreciated the ability to have an informal and low-stake way to practice. They mentioned that this opportunity allowed them to learn about public speaking in a different way than what was provided by classes or research alone.

“My biggest takeaway was that public speaking is not a singular thing. It is dynamic and changes greatly depending on who is presenting, the topic they are presenting on, and the audience they are presenting to. Even within the same topic and audience, people will present very differently, and that’s okay. That individuality is what makes the speech.”

“This seemed like a great way of encouraging public speaking without forcing anyone into uncomfortable situations since topic options were given, groups were small, and feedback was genuine and intimate among fellow peers. It was a well-organized means of addressing an aspect of leadership that doesn’t come naturally and I think it was beneficial for many, including myself.”

“My biggest takeaway is that to be who you are in whatever you are doing is the most important thing. We are engineers, but we are not machines, and each of us is different, and that difference is what makes us interesting to listen to. Also, if you don’t do passionately what you do, you cannot even get good feedback to help you.”

John Lof Leadership Academy Leads Conflict Resolution Workshop

John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) members have developed a cycling curriculum for their 2-year leadership training. Within this curriculum, each semester has a target leadership goal or theme and a set of three skills in which the members focus on.  Throughout the semester, the members plan and coordinate active learning and training workshops. The workshops target these skills with a larger focus on leadership.

The Fall 2019 Semester theme was “Communicating Leadership”.  The skills for this semester were (1) public speaking, (2) feedback skills, and (3) conflict resolution.

On January 14th, the conflict resolution committee, led by Anna Marie LaChance, worked with Katherine Kenyon from the Office of Institutional Equity at UConn. Katherine led a 2 hour training on the causes of conflict. The training focused on policy, student rights, and civility and incivility.

Katharine led a hands-on activity meant to initiate a discussion about conflict. She had JLLA members form two separate groups and build a structure. The groups had to then write instructions for the other group on how recreate their structure.  Finally, Katherine led a discussion regarding the issues everyone ran into into within the activity and identify areas where conflict had arisen.








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