Underdog stories are fan favorites for a reason. Watching a group exceed expectations to rise to the top can feel magical. They remind the eternal dreamer in us that anything is possible and demand the realist to reconsider their frame for reality. As newly crowned 2018 International Champions of the Collegiate Leadership Competition (CLC), the M.A. and Lila Self Leadership Academy from Illinois Tech celebrated their underdog story through reflection on all the hard work their team put forth over the 2018 spring semester.
The team spent one and a half hours every week from January through March together in practice—learning the CLC leadership terms and concepts, engaging in team-based strategy and problem-solving activities, and facing challenges designed to stretch the boundaries of their leadership skills. The team even had the opportunity to try out official CLC competition activities from the 2017 competition towards the end of their practice season.
The team competed in the Great Lakes region competition from April 6-7 in Cleveland against 12 teams from eight other universities from the midwestern United States and southeastern Canada. The competition was held at John Carroll University and once there, the team noticed a few differences between themselves and the other teams. Not only were they the most ethnically diverse team, their STEM backgrounds also stood in stark contrast to the business, communication, and psychology majors of their fellow competitors. Additionally, some of the teams had competed before and were confident in their potential and abilities. Motivated by these differences and the doubts that accompanied them, the team felt intrinsically inspired to show the value of diversity and represent for Illinois Tech, the Leadership Academy, and all STEM majors.
On the night before the competition, the team met one last time and it was during this final meeting that the team’s strong cohesion became explicitly evident for each team member. They recognized and highlighted the strengths of each other so they knew who to lean on in certain novel situations. They reflected on what worked and what did not work over the past 12 weeks of practice to better understand how to approach competition day as a whole. They relied on each other to ensure that all CLC terms and concepts were covered. They strategized how to approach each challenge faced in terms of ideation, creation, and evaluation. They understood the importance of communication and teamwork. They knew that while they may not win, they would compete hard and have fun. They knew that this journey had already strengthened their bonds of friendship between each other and that they had lessons learned that they could apply and utilize in their careers. They knew that regardless of outcome, they experienced the ups and downs together as a team and that they would support each other no matter what. They were a mix of campus leaders that at its foundation, knew how to work collaboratively with each other. While they were not aware of it at the time, they were already demonstrating the skills needed to win the competition—all they had to do was have fun and show it. And they certainly did.
The Illinois Tech team emerged from the regional competition as Great Lakes Champions, receiving 1,113 points out of a possible 1,200 points, outpacing the next closest team by over 170 points. Hurdling over every obstacle right out of the gates, the team celebrated their first team-based activity success by completing their first challenge and rode that momentum all the way to the finish line. In fact, they became the first team in CLC history to complete all six challenges with a perfect product score—scoring was based on process points (how well the team demonstrated the CLC leadership model and worked together to solve the problems) and product points (how fast the team completed the challenges and/or if the challenge was completed at all). Paired with their strong process scores, the team took home two trophies commemorating their win as Great Lakes Product Champions and Great Lakes Regional Champions.
The team then patiently waited for the results from the other four regional competitions (Ohio Valley, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Heartland) to see how their overall score matched up with other regional champions—the team with the highest score across all five regions would be named International Champions. Then, in late April, the coaches of the team received a congratulatory call from CLC leadership, detailing that they were official champions for 2018.
This team emerged as the top scoring team across all five regions and 79 teams from 55 universities from the United States and Canada. They were honored by President Alan Cramb at a private dinner and again at an end-of-year celebration that commemorated all successes of the Leadership Academy from the previous academic year. Team members said they were thrilled to emerge as overall winners—some stating that CLC was their best memory from being in the Leadership Academy—but were just as proud to have won as a team, alongside their fellow scholars and friends. Additionally, the two coaches stated that they were so proud to witness the development and growth of the team from novices in January to international champions in April. They also both said that going through this underdog journey with the team was one of the best experiences of their careers.
The Illinois Tech CLC team represented this tenacity, creativity, and camaraderie on an international stage. Their success is an achievement for the campus as a whole and a testament to the leadership and ingenuity developed here. Congratulations!
- San Lae Lae Cho – Fifth-Year, Architecture
- Brianna Galvan – Third-Year, Civil Engineering
- Chris Hui – Third-Year, Mechanical Engineering
- Hamza Khan – Third-Year, Electrical Engineering
- Merjem Mededovic – Fourth-Year, Biomedical Engineering
- Adi Sudhan – Third-Year, Electrical Engineering
- Hamze “Leo” Sukkar – Fifth-Year, Computer Engineering and Engineering Management
- Diana Wu – Second-Year, Chemical Engineering
- Chris Zurowski – Fourth-Year, Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics
Contact: Rodney Vallejo, email@example.com, 312.567.6472