High School Students from Saint Paul and East Metro Area in Wilder's Youth Leadership Initiative gather for a retreat at the Wilder Center.

5 Skills Youth Leadership Initiative Alumni Bring Into Work and Life After High School


By guest author and changemaker, Padah Vang, YLI Alumna (2013 – 2015) and Youth Mentor (summer 2018 internship) with Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative.

I joined the Youth Leadership Initiative in my sophomore year of high school because I wanted something different, challenging, fun and meaningful. I found all of that in YLI, as the community leadership program for 9-12 grade students at Wilder is often called. I became a YLI peer leader, known as a Youth Mentor, during my junior and senior years of high school. My co-mentors and I joked about eating, breathing and dreaming of YLI. We found that no matter where we were, we carried YLI with us, often thinking about what we learned and how we were applying it into our own lives.

Many alumni continue to use leadership concepts and skills they learned through YLI's program activities like leadership retreats, youth action projects, cultural exploration sessions and academic support. So, I sent alumni from the Youth Leadership Initiative a survey and asked: What is one YLI skill, philosophy, lesson learned or concept you still use since graduating from YLI? How have you used it? Here are the top five skills YLI alumni say they still use:

1. Public Speaking: Most of the YLI alumni mentioned that public speaking is a skill that they still use to this day.

Kia Lor uses their public speaking at board, committee, staff meetings, teaching and orientation. Paul Vang uses his public speaking skills to facilitate activities for his advisory cohort and took the challenge to be an emcee at his school. Xai Thao found public speaking to be very useful and relevant. He often has to present to groups of 30-200 students. Public speaking is a transferable skill that can be implemented to any place and audience.

2. Self Confidence: YLI holds and facilitates the space to find confidence in our own voice and self.

“Before I joined YLI, I used to be a very quiet person, but during my time at YLI, it taught me how to not be shy and to be confident about myself,” Oo Meh wrote.

Kenneth Yang wrote, “YLI has definitely taught me how to be confident in my thoughts and spoken word. I use this wherever I go, and it has definitely made my life richer and more fulfilling.”

3. Implicit Biases: YLI creates a safe space for youth to explore their implicit biases through fun and interactive activities.

Implicit biases are subconscious attitudes towards people and associated stereotypes of them. These implicit biases may affect how we treat and interact with certain people. At YLI, we question our own biases that are based on limited experiences and narratives. Where are our attitudes stemming from? What did our parents or guardians teach us about other people? At the end of these activities, we also know that our implicit biases do not automatically disappear by simply naming them and that we must continue to examine them.

Cooper Vang talks about how he examines his implicit biases when he meets new students at Augsburg College. Are his biases stopping him from creating intentional and meaningful relationships? On the contrary, he says, “When meeting new people with different experiences, I use what I think I know in combination of what is present to adapt to communities that are around me.”

Sam Xiong wrote that he has to recognize the implicit bias he has towards things in his daily life. He says, "I make sure I take a minute to ask myself if I am being fair about my judgments. YLI has helped me realize the implicit biases in our lives that affect the way we carry ourselves or unconsciously make judgments.”

4. Intersectionality: YLI teaches you about intersectionality and how people’s different identities, such as race, class, gender, sexuality and ability, are interwoven and affects their experience.

One of the YLI activities is that youth participants write down their different identities on each petal of a flower. Afterward, they have conversations around each of their various identities and how they work in complex ways to form and inform their experiences.

Cooper Vang shared, “YLI has also taught me well about the many identities that people hold… college is a place where many people who hold different identities come to learn. Through YLI, I learned why it’s important to ask people for their preferred pronouns and how important it is to address them correctly.”

5. Cross-cultural Communication: YLI encourages youth to be curious about their own culture and other people’s culture.

Cross-cultural communication is an interaction that happens in the process of communication with people who identify differently in terms of race, class, age, gender, sexuality, generational, worldviews, religion or spirituality. 

Chit Su Htway wrote, “I learn to appreciate my culture. I share my culture with other people without hesitation. For example, whenever I meet someone new, they would ask me where I am from, and without thinking, I just share my culture with that person.” An appreciation for our own culture allows for us to be appreciated and be curious to learn about others. 

Diversity is our strength,” Pa Xiong wrote.

“I have used the skills of learning and working with people across differences. It has helped me in tough situations and discussions about race, equity and bias and in the work that I do now,” Gao Thor shared.  

One alum approached the question differently. Xe Chang wrote, “Rather than specific skills or concepts, I feel like I continue to embody a way of being that I specifically learned and practiced in YLI. They are, listening with the intent to understand… having meaningful interactions with my peers, being mindful of certain powers and privileges, and being willing to take risks and to trust in the process of the ‘newness.’” 

Even after leaving Minnesota for college in Colorado, I continue to use what I have learned in Wilder's Youth Leadership Initiative. Public speaking has helped me with class presentations, hosting events, and with my responsibilities as an employee in the admissions office at my college. When I tell prospective students and parents that I use to be quiet, they tell me that I must be lying. I can never imagine you being quiet, they tell me. I laugh and shrug my shoulders. I’d never imagined myself to be this way, speaking to 60+ students and families! 

The Youth Leadership Initiative at the Wilder Foundation shows us a way of being. It flows in us through the way that we think, the words that we use, and the actions that we take. YLI lives in us. We are YLI!



High School Students in Saint Paul & East Metro Can Join YLI in 2019-2020!

YLI, Wilder's Youth Leadership Initiative, is a community leadership program for high school students living in Saint Paul and East Metro

YLI is now accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year and deadline to apply is September 15, 2019. Program runs from October 2019 to May 2020.