In 1st Try, Students Are Leadership Champs

Six students pose with trophy.
<strong>Our winning team in the Collegiate Leadership Competition, from left: Jubi Lin (Yung-Ling), Mengmeng Luo, Matt Licina, Sonal Patel, Neha Rathi and Vanessa Holmes.</strong>

A team of students recently earned a regional championship in UC Davis’ first-ever entry in the Collegiate Leadership Competition.

Fielding the team was easy. Finding a regional event closer than Kansas City, Missouri, was impossible. Our team ended up in Cleveland (the dates worked out better) for one of the other five regionals, held at John Carroll University, competing against 10 teams from the Great Lakes Region.


Students build house of cards with giant cards.
Luo and Licina build giant house of cards.
  • Vanessa Holmes, animal biology major, second year
  • Mengmeng Luo, sustainable agriculture and food systems, second year
  • Matt Licina, sustainable agriculture and food systems, fourth year
  • Jubi Lin (Yung-Ling), biotechnology, third year
  • Sonal Patel, managerial economics, fourth year
  • Neha Rathi, managerial economics, second year

In addition to winning the regional title, the UC Davis ranked third among all 51 teams in all of the regional events in the United States and Canada. Not bad for a first-time entrant.

The team had been in training since January, coached by Christie Navarro, director of the Center for Leadership Learning, and Corrine “Co” Hawes, student leadership development coordinator in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and sponsored by the Center for Leadership Learning (a unit of Undergraduate Education) and CA&ES.

The College Leadership Competition, a nonprofit program founded in 2015, creates “a dynamic practice field” where student leaders can apply what they’re learning in a context that stretches them to the boundaries of their leadership knowledge, skills and abilities. “The CLC makes leadership a real, tangible experience for future leaders,” the program declares on its website.

Each year’s competition comprises a series of six puzzles and activities, with each team member having the opportunity to lead one activity. Neither coaches nor students know the activities prior to the competition.

Activity leaders and team members are judged on two dimensions: observed behavior throughout the activities (i.e., process) and how quickly/accurately the team accomplished the objective (i.e., results). 

Navarro described the final challenge in Cleveland: “Pixel Project,” which called on teams to re-create a Post-it note mural — a duplicate of a mural in the hallway outside the “arena” (activity room). Each member of each team could view the original mural only once, individually or with teammates, during the course of the challenge — requiring each team to carefully consider when to send people into the hallway, to make observations or double-check the team’s work.

Students make a mural out of Post-it notes, on the floor.
The UC Davis team, early on in the “Pixel Project,” clockwise from top right, Matt Licina, Vanessa Holmes, Mengmeng Luo, Sonal Patel and Jubi Lin. They’re replicating a mural out of Post-it notes ...
Students surround mural made from Post-it notes.
... and here it is, finished, in 22 minutes! UC Davis wins the championship!

“The ‘Pixel Project’ really challenged our team to use their strategic planning, communication and conflict management skills, but above all, their emotional intelligence since it was the last opportunity to earn as many points as they could,” Navarro said.

The challenge had a 45-minute time limit and offered a maximum 100 points to teams that completed the task in less than 25 minutes. The UC Davis team did it in 22 minutes, and, with the resulting points, pushed past the other teams for the regional title.

Leadership potential surfaces

Lin, one of the UC Davis team members, had the following to say in an email to her coaches: “Training for CLC was truly a valuable, impactful and rewarding experience for me. Thank you again for bringing out the leadership potential in me and making me view leadership from a completely different lens throughout the training sessions and the competition.

“I will be forever thankful that you believed in me (a ‘quieter’ yet cheerful and enthusiastic leader/team member who intervenes as appropriate) and provided me the opportunity last quarter to develop a variety of leadership skills weekly. I learned a lot from others and I hope others were able to learn from me as well.”

How to get involved

The Center for Leadership Learning invites all undergraduates to participate in the center’s activities, and encourages staff and faculty to refer and recommend students to the center’s programs. Established in 2007, the center served more than 550 students in 2017-18. Here are some of the center’s programs:

Contact the center:

  • Email
  • Phone — 530-752-6908

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff, 530-752-6556,

Primary Category

Secondary Categories

Student Life