One of the pillars of Siena’s new strategic plan “Leading the Way” is to develop skills for Siena students to do just that: lead. 

To that end, Siena welcomed an inaugural cohort of 275 students to its new Franciscan Student Leadership Center. The program kicked off with a February 7 training day, the first of several sessions this semester that will prepare the students to take active roles in the classroom, volunteer activities, internships and playing field, so that when they launch their careers, they have the confidence and vision to lead.

“We wanted to incorporate leadership capability training into the overall Siena experience for a much wider range of students,” said Jerry DeFrancisco '68, DPS, LHD ’18, Siena’s distinguished executive in residence. “We were looking to build a program that would offer interested students the opportunity to drive their future forward by learning what is theirs to do.” 

“Many of the concepts of modern leadership reflect the values that St. Francis espoused and practiced 800 years ago: Listening, empathy, humility, self-awareness, and most of all, the idea that as a leader, you are here to serve others. These concepts are not only important for leadership, but also are important in the way we live our everyday lives, regardless of the career students choose.” 

Siena is partnering with the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) in this endeavor, to offer programming and activities to help students achieve personal growth and future career success, and empower them to have a positive impact in their communities. Siena is one of more than 750 NSLS college chapters in the U.S., but Siena’s program is unique in that it is infused with the values of St. Francis of Assisi. 

DeFrancisco worked with Zach Brimmer ’20 MBA ’21, associate director for strategy, communications and experience, to design the leadership program to fit the specific needs and interests of students at Siena. Erik Eddy, Ph.D., professor of management and executive director of the Institute for Leadership Development, is serving as a faculty advisor. 

To give the program the proper grounding, they interviewed a guidance committee of deans, faculty and administrators to determine what content would make the program most impactful for its participants. Sophomores and juniors with a GPA over 3.0 were invited to participate in the first cohort; students could also be nominated by a faculty member. After completing the program’s requirements, participants will receive a co-branded Siena-NSLS certificate. A new cohort will be developed each semester.

“It was exciting to see how engaged the students were at the kick-off,” said Brimmer. “The program will help get them a little bit out of their comfort zones so they can each find the best way for them to be a leader in their own personal way.”

The session began with a prayer by Fr. Mark Reamer, O.F.M., vice president for mission, followed by President Chris Gibson, Ph.D. speaking about his personal leadership experiences during his time as a U.S. Army officer, member of Congress, and as Siena’s president.

The students then broke into small groups to talk about their personal SMART goals and map out their plans for the program over the coming weeks.

Alicia Pepe, assistant vice president for experiential learning and career development, said she is excited about the potential mentoring and internship opportunities that this leadership program will afford Siena students.

“Leadership is one of the career readiness competencies most sought after by employers,” she explained. “Those students who come to the workforce equipped with this skill will differentiate themselves from other candidates.”

Several athletes have committed to the program, which John D’Argenio, vice president and director of athletics, said will help them develop skills that will serve them in sports, academics and in their future careers.

“This is a terrific opportunity for Siena students,” said D’Argenio. “Leadership skills informed by Franciscan values are an unbeatable combination that will serve them well during their time at Siena and beyond graduation.” 

The first cohort of students is already off and running, and looking forward to expanding their horizons.

“I joined this program to continue to help develop my leadership skills,” Giavanna Pellecchia ’25. “It will be beneficial to future students as well as current ones because it will help them to continue to develop leadership skills that are tied to Franciscan values.”

Jaden Whittaker ’25 said the new Franciscan Leadership Center will allow Saints to learn how to be better leaders through applied initiatives. He recently took on a leadership role as the NSLS chapter president, assisting DeFrancisco and Brimmer in achieving the chapter’s goals. 

“This center will continue to grow in years to come using innovations from students, faculty, and administrators,” he said. “Members of this strategic group will be ready to enter the workforce and be able to continue the tradition of Siena being the number one college for job placement in New York.”  

Emily Atassi ’24 said, “This initiative is adding so much to my education at Siena. It is helping me to build skills necessary for my career to supplement what we get inside the classroom.”