Transformational Leadership: Juli Ewell’s Capstone Project

The following is a reflection written by accounting major Juli Ewell ’15. Ewell was part of the first cohort of students in the newly-developed Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (ULS) program.

My ULS capstone project is best understood with some context. Aggie Habitat was founded at Texas A&M around the year 1992 and since then, it has established a good reputation among students and the cities of Bryan and College Station. I was acting Historian during the 2012-2013 school year and was able to see the group during its best year so far. That year’s officers were well organized, we had approximately 200 students as paying members, our key fundraisers were the most successful they had ever been, and the organization surpassed its goal of sponsoring one Habitat house each year by actually funding two houses. At the end of the 2012-2013 year, it was an honor to be an officer in such a successful group, and I chose to continue on as the new Treasurer.

However, the following year brought numerous challenges that significantly harmed the organization. Our membership count was obliterated at the very first informational meeting because of a conflict with room reservations, causing the most important and professional meeting of the year to be held outside with our frazzled officers shouting their haphazard speeches. The group tried to recover, but it severely lacked central leadership. Unfortunately, we were unable to raise the funds to sponsor even one house that year. By the final meeting of 2013-2014, less than 20 general members were in attendance. We encouraged those few to become the succeeding officers, even though nearly all had only become members in the spring semester so had little knowledge of the organization as a whole. All of the 2013-2014 officers were leaving the group, except myself, and I discovered our faculty advisor was stepping down as well. Therefore, with an army of brand-new officers and tenuous foundations from a difficult year, I assumed the role of President with the goal of helping Aggie Habitat thrive again.

My project was initially to increase Aggie Habitat’s general membership by using a Transformational Leadership approach. This leadership style helped me quickly realize the importance of first strengthening the incoming 2014-2015 officer group. Throughout the year, I experimented with different leadership aspects and initiated various activities in order to accomplish my project. I desired to train the officers in their roles and to develop them into strong leaders themselves, which would give the organization the best hopes of long-term continuity. I organized teambuilding activities such as a summer Officer Retreat and educational Habitour with the Bryan/College Station Habitat Affiliate office. I forced myself to practice effective delegation techniques. Despite wanting to micromanage everyone, that would certainly not be efficient and would not help the others grow into their positions. The method I used to attract new general members was inspired by a Simon Sinek TED Talk that preaches, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I adopted a new approach at the first meeting of each semester; I explained to the audience that the problem of substandard housing exists, that Habitat for Humanity is shown to mitigate it, and that Aggie Habitat lets students contribute to this worthy cause. The officers then strove to retain our members during the school year by hosting exciting meetings and activities.

A female student with long brown hair pulled back, wearing a grey sweatshirt over a green polo speaks at a podium with several people in the background.
Undergraduate Leadership Scholar Juli Ewell ’15, speaking at a Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony

The results of my ULS project appear successful. The 2014-2015 officers were a fantastic group, and their amazing dedication far exceeded my expectations at every turn. Each one is now extremely experienced in his or her role, and they grew into a cohesive team. I am proud to say that at our recent officer elections, nearly every position was filled by a prior officer. Thus, not only were the returnees qualified, they also wanted to stay involved. Aggie Habitat’s membership flourished, ending the spring semester with more than 175 paid members with decent continued attendance at our events. In April, we were on track to have raised the funds to fully sponsor a house, we won the Texas A&M Student Activities Organization of the Year Award, and one of our members received the Margaret Rudder Community Service Award. My four-year involvement with Aggie Habitat has been a fully rewarding experience, and the work of my ULS capstone project helped me achieve the goals I had set. I am so thankful for this organization’s amazing opportunities and the incredible people I have gotten to know through my journey.

For more information about the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/leadership or contact Antoine Jefferson at ajeffe5@tamu.edu. To find out about the capstone programs run by Honors and Undergraduate Research, please visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

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