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‘Through the fire together’

Students and alumni describe how Buckeye Leadership Fellows opened their minds and hearts, shaping the way they perceive the world.

Students in the Buckeye Leadership Fellows program don’t get a syllabus, and their projects are assigned without guidelines. The point is to show them life doesn’t come with a playbook.

While the program removes the comfort of clarity for its fellows, it also reveals a solution to every challenge and obstacle. From day one, it’s staring the students in the face. It’s the power of people. The value of relationships. Discovery through diversity. Conflict and resolution.

A tough lesson to learn — and a valuable one.

Editing: Cara Reed; Interviews: Todd Jones and Kristen Schmidt

Program Graduate

Shelby Kretz ’13

Doctoral Candidate, Urban Schooling Program at University of California, Los Angeles; founder of Little Justice Leaders and co-founder of 1Girl, which empower and assist kids
A woman in an orange blazer sits on a white wicker bench in front of a brick wall

Jo McCulty

“The most significant part was the connections you made with alumni who genuinely cared about offering you support and resources. I met lifelong mentors who are still supporting me today.

The content, of course, was significant as well. The interconnected experiences I had in BLF directly or indirectly moved me toward entrepreneurship. The idea for starting 1girl (with co-fellows Aditi Bansal ’13 and Sheila Maina ’13) was through a BLF project, and that set my career on a different trajectory.

I remember we were on the phone with Matt Desch, telling him we wanted to start 1girl. We just wanted advice. He said, if you raise this much, I’ll give you this much toward your budget. We were speechless. He was just like, I believe in this, I believe in you.”

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Jo McCulty

Pleased to share the lead

From the forefront of the global wireless industry, this magnanimous CEO offers his rapt attention and a world of opportunity to a new cohort of Buckeye Leadership Fellows each year. He accommodates stockholders and students alike. That’s because giving undergrads a leading edge is Matt Desch’s way of thanking the people who years ago enriched his own Ohio State experience.

Read his story

Program Graduate

Churchill Ndonwie ’16

Business change manager at Anthem Inc.
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David Scott Holloway

“Before BLF, I was figuring out my direction. I joke that BLF was the smith and I was the iron. It brought the hammer and molded me, showed me: Here’s how you approach the world.

The program drove us to ask ourselves questions like, who am I? Those questions helped me start to formulate my voice and find my authenticity as a leader.

Parts of BLF were like therapy. We were in spaces where we were constantly asked to have difficult conversations about ourselves to help us grow. When you’re doing that, people see you at your most vulnerable. That creates strong bonds. My closest friendships have come from this group, even now when we’re spread around the country. There’s a strong connection that comes from going through the fire together.”

Current Fellows

Kritagya Arora

Fourth-year studying industrial systems engineering
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Jo McCulty

“My confidence has really grown in being able to contact someone and in understanding that people do want to help you. That’s been a stepping stone for me.

The challenges are exciting because you work with a variety of people, [both on the] team and outside partners, to make the project successful. You have people with different educational and personal backgrounds, and you get to see the mindsets that influence their decision-making. That expands your perspective. You learn your experiences are limited, so involving other people in a process is critical.

And the caliber of students is so high. Being in an environment where everyone is always in it to be their best creates this motivation to do whatever you can to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday.”

Current Fellows

Noor Alshafie

Fourth-year studying public management, leadership and policy
A woman wearing a black hijab and tortoiseshell eyeglasses smiles at a photographer while seated outdoors beside a brick building

Jo McCulty

“Leadership is this entire program, but what makes it special is it’s about diverse leadership. Diversity of experience, diversity of thoughts, diversity of identities. It’s what you bring to the table holistically that makes this so special.

These are the people I wish I would have met freshmen year but didn’t get the chance. People who are so passionate and so driven about things I know nothing about. When you hear someone talk about something they really care about and see their eyes light up, that’s really cool for me.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is vulnerability comes with leadership. To be a leader, it’s not about finding the thing you’re passionate about, it’s about finding the thing that breaks your heart and realizing you can’t live if that thing continues, so you need to do something to help your heart heal. That is what the program has truly given me.”

Get involved

The Buckeye Leadership Fellows program welcomes alumni interested in being part of students’ experiences. Learn how to serve as a mentor or support the education of tomorrow’s leaders with a gift.

Learn more about Buckeye Leadership Fellows

About the author

About the author

Ross Bishoff

Ross Bishoff is a writer in University Marketing. He has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor in Gannett Newspapers and Freedom Communications. As a freelance writer, his stories have appeared in national magazines as well as Ohio-based newspapers and radio station websites.