The Journey

Inspiring and guiding the leaders of tomorrow

"The thing is, even though we have these programs, a lot of students and faculty don’t know about The Journey. To me, this is the reason you should come to Suffolk."

Sheikh Abu Nasher Class of 2019, Computer Science Major
Morgan Robb drifted facedown in the waters of Crystal River, Fl., riveted by what she saw through the scuffed plastic of her facemask.

Suffolk Journey students looking out at Crystal River from a boat before swimming with manatees.

Gray creatures glided through the water beneath her, more than two meters long, outweighing her by hundreds of pounds. Remembering the instructions she’d been given, she tried to remain calm, but she knew she was a trespasser here; this was the creatures’ domain. Instinctively, she reached out to her companion beside her for reassurance, or support, or just to make sure this was really happening.

Her companion, Wongly Sine, was in need of some support himself. Floating in the water was not something that came naturally to him, even when he wasn’t in close proximity to large, barrel-shaped wildlife. In fact, he had told himself he wasn’t going to do this at all—don a wetsuit, push a snorkel into his mouth, and descend into this river. Yet here he was, with seven other trespassers, challenging himself to stay calm and still even when his instincts told him to move quickly away.

That’s when he saw Robb reach out again—very slowly—and brush her fingers across the mottled skin of a giant that had become curious and wandered close. She was petting a manatee.

A large manatee floating by in Crystal River. 

Robb, a Class of 2019 marketing major, and Sine, a Class of 2019 management major, were participating in Suffolk University’s annual Leadership Winter Break experience—a trip to Florida organized by the Office of Student Leadership & Involvement (SLI). Aside from getting Suffolk undergrads up close and personal with manatees in Crystal River, the trip takes them to Walt Disney World in Orlando, and to the University of Central Florida. It’s an itinerary so filled with new and compelling experiences that it’s easy to forget that there’s a broader purpose underlying the trip.

In fact, the days-long excursion in Florida is itself only one part of a larger program in experiential leadership that can stretch through all four years of an undergraduate’s career at Suffolk. That program is known as the Journey.

"Being in the city, you work with a diverse group of individuals. So being in the leadership program helps you learn about yourself, challenge yourself. Getting in the water was not something I was going to do, but having the support of people who were on the trip with me helped me to overcome that challenge. And I got to experience something that I may not experience again." 

Wongly Sine Class of 2019, Management Major

The Journey Begins

Suffolk SLI Director Dave DeAngelis sitting at his desk in his office.

A journey of a thousand miles, the saying goes, begins with a single step. At Suffolk, a thousand student journeys have their beginning in a single room on the third floor of the Frank Sawyer Building in downtown Boston. It’s the office of SLI director Dave DeAngelis, the man behind the Journey Leadership Program.

The pleasant muddle of DeAngelis’s office makes it clear that he has a lot going on. From colorful posters advertising past campus events to a dozen plaques commemorating his various professional achievements to piles of paper struggling for scant desk space with three computer monitors, all give the impression of a man working tirelessly.

DeAngelis himself gives the impression of a man who loves his work—happy to talk about it, even at the end of a long day, and able to pivot effortlessly from entertaining anecdotes about the Journey to the formal structure and purpose of the leadership program.

In essence, DeAngelis explains, the Journey works in two ways: as a catalyst for student involvement in the scores of campus groups and organizations available at Suffolk, and as a platform for larger experiences in leadership beyond the university’s walls. Students who participate in the Journey earn credits for every co-curricular activity that they participate in, from student government to the campus newspaper to drama troupes to video gaming clubs—practically any activity counts. With the collection of a certain number of credits, students can reach levels—there are four—that qualify them to participate in “signature” experiences, of which Leadership Winter Break is just one example.

And what do the manatees of Crystal River have to do with leadership? DeAngelis is quick to note the significance of compassion in interactions with mammals both human and aquatic.

Suffolk Journey students posing on the dock before swimming with manatees.

“Swimming with manatees is a great lesson in empathy—seeing where they’re coming from, what they’ve been through. If you’re gentle and you’re kind, people are more willing to interact with you, and that’s also true of the manatee. Sometimes you’ll see a tour group that’s splashing and being loud and obtrusive to these animals, and the manatees just want to go away. With our groups, since we focus on empathy with others, the manatees come right over and rub up against you.

“It’s a really cool experience,” DeAngelis sums up reflectively, “and in some ways hard to explain.”

Charting A Course Through Challenging Waters

Suffolk Journey students listening to the sailing instructor during their lesson on the Boston Harbor in 2012.

Turning to the origins of the Journey, DeAngelis recalls, “When I came here ten years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot being done with leadership programs on campus other than occasional workshops. Those didn’t really resonate with our students. We started to think, ‘We’re in a city, what can we do?’”

One of the first answers he and his staff came up with was sailing.

Leadership On The Harbor

Guiding a 34-foot sailboat through Boston Harbor is in many ways an ideal method for nurturing qualities associated with leadership: teamwork, communication, and handling challenging situations with poise. When Journey students set sail on this trip, they’re not just sightseers—they’re in charge of the voyage in a very real way as they haul rigging, swing sails, and steer their vessel across the waters of a major urban port.

Alexia Baugniet, a Class of 2020 radiation therapy major, decided to challenge herself with this experience during her freshman year. “I have a fear of sailing,” she confesses, before adding, paradoxically, “So I said, ‘Okay, might as well go do it.’”

As it happened, Mother Nature chose to add an extra twist to the test of nerve that Baugniet had set for herself. On the day she and four fellow Journey students set out on their excursion with an instructor from Boston Sailing Center, an early autumn squall rose out of the west and began a swift descent onto the harbor.

“Above us it was bright and sunny on the water,” she recalls, “but you could see these dark clouds above the city skyline on the shore. And the winds were insane.” This was the setting in which her group had to learn a new skill, on the spot, by doing it.

A Suffolk Journey student smiles for the camera as she pulls tight a rope during her sailing lesson.

“There’s five of us struggling to work together, screaming at each other because the wind is so loud. One of us is steering. Another is reeling the ropes in to bring the sail to the other side. While someone is doing that, someone else has to pull at the rope, because it can get tangled; the other person has to let the line go loose, but make sure it doesn’t get into a knot. So there’s three people doing one rope at the same time to make sure the sail is changing.”

By the end of that memorable afternoon, Baugniet and her classmates had transformed themselves—perhaps not into expert sailors, but that was never really the goal. What they had become were much better communicators. A team.

“We definitely improved together,” she says. “At first we had no idea what we were all doing; no one had ever sailed before. And then, by the end of it, even though there were other boats all around us, we were able to steer around them. Because we worked together.”

"When a student graduates, we want them to have learned the value of the out-of-the-classroom experience: getting involved, learning from mistakes, learning how to lead, managing people, working through adversity, and learning about the differences in peoples’ experiences."

David DeAngelis Director, Student Leadership & Involvement

Running The Park

Suffolk Journey students pose for a photo in Walt Disney World.

Back in Florida, Robb, Sine, and their fellow Leadership Winter Break Journey-ers bid the manatees farewell and traveled three hours east to engage in a more literal, but no less thrilling, side of leadership. They were going to meet some of the people behind one of the most successful businesses in the history of entertainment—the Walt Disney Company.

As monuments to applied leadership philosophies go, it’s hard to find many more impressive than the sprawling, immaculate theme parks of Walt Disney World in Orlando, annually thronged by millions of visitors from all over the world. It’s immediately clear that leaders within this organization know what they’re doing; and they’re willing to share that knowledge with college students as part of their Youth Education Series. In this two-day program, Journey students embark on tours of the park with Disney managers and participate in interactive sessions with staff focused on the management styles that have proven so successful at the company.

If these activities sound more like a traditional workshop than tearing across a harbor in a sailboat or frolicking with manatees, they are. But considering the surroundings, no one seems to mind.

Suffolk Journey students gathered around a Disney World employee listening for instructions for the day.

“We arrived super early, so we were the only people in the park,” says Robb, “which was incredible.” Describing their first exercise, she continues, “We were given the task of running the park today: Go into a section, and think about cast members [Disney’s term for its employees], think about what the problems are, and what’s going on well here. As a marketing major, I’m taught to look at things from the outsider’s perspective. Looking at an internal perspective is more difficult than you’d think it would be.”

Those kinds of insights cropped up throughout the day, sometimes in unexpected moments. Sine was surprised when he noticed upper-level Disney managers walking through the park in those early morning hours and picking up trash using long grabbing tools.

“In a lot of organizations, when you have power, you just tell people what to do,” he observes. But at Walt Disney World, he saw a different model on display.

Suffolk Journey student Wongly Sine smiling in front of Epcot Center.

“If they see something on the ground, they won’t wait for the cleaning crew, they’ll pick it up right away,” Sine continues. “Everyone’s contributing to the park and making sure everything looks neat for the guests.”

This kind of sneak peek behind the scenes was especially valuable for Sine, who happens to be minoring in Leadership. The minor program combines Journey experiences with academic coursework, a marriage of theory to practice that creates a clear path for students aspiring to create change in their careers post-Suffolk. The Leadership minor is a natural choice for students like Sine who are focused on management, but it’s available to all undergrads across the College of Arts & Sciences and Sawyer Business School alike.

Of course, the Disney experience wouldn’t be the Disney experience if it were solely about perspective and insight. Rising early again on their last morning at the park, Robb and several friends decided to take Hollywood Studios by storm. And again, they were the first ones there.

“Just to be running down the street together was a lot of fun. We were the first ride of the day on the Tower of Terror. We did two or three of the biggest, best-known rollercoasters at Disney before 9:00 a.m. It’s weird, but Disney, even as an adult, can be even more magical than when you were a kid. That excitement is still there every time.” 

"The Journey is making me into a person who has employable skills, like my communication ability, my interpersonal skills, my teamwork abilities. Things that I may have had anyway, but that I wouldn’t have developed as much if I wasn’t having these experiences."

Morgan Robb Class of 2019, Marketing Major

Inspiration In Stone And In Person

A visitor gazes on the Lincoln Monument during the Journey Program's visit to our nation's capital.

Some 800 miles up the east coast from Orlando, Journey students visit a place where leadership is symbolized with more literal monuments—the kind shaped in marble and granite. This is the Washington, D.C. Leadership Exchange, another signature experience, which  brings students face-to-face with the styles and practices of the nation’s foremost civic leaders, both past and present.

One of the more recent additions to this city’s pantheon of American heroes gazes out across the Tidal Basin, arms folded, as though he is seeing the future. And maybe he could, considering how he wrote and spoke about it during his life, most memorably in words he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, less than half a mile away. Here, Journey student Sheikh Abu Nasher—“Nash” to his friends—looked up into the face of Martin Luther King, Jr. and reflected on the civil rights leader’s words.

“‘I have a dream’ is one of Dr. King’s best-known quotes,” says Nasher, describing the experience of seeing King’s quotations engraved in granite during his first visit to the nation’s capital. “But I had no idea about his other quotes. Here you have one of the greatest leaders in the world—walking around those walls and seeing his words was inspirational. Learning about him this way, through his words, gives you ideas about how you can be a better leader.”

Nasher and his classmates spent that autumn day absorbed in inspirational settings like this, including the Lincoln Memorial and John F. Kennedy’s tomb in Arlington National Cemetery, each with its timeless quoted wisdom to share. But a complete understanding of what it takes to lead can’t come solely from words carved in stone. That’s why the group, during their stay in Washington, connected with some of the people who make the nation’s capital run, from the flag-lined hall of the U.S. Department of State to the landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl diner on U Street.

Suffolk Journey students pose for a group picture during their visit to Washington D.C.

It all added up to an immersive experience that went beyond the bounds of tourism. After all, a tourist might well visit the State Department, but wouldn’t use the time to ask a former advisor to the Secretary of State about international relations the way the Journey students did. A tourist might drop into Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half-smoke, but wouldn’t discuss with its management the challenges of maintaining a famous street-level business across six decades. And Journey students are well aware that these opportunities for discourse are not common.

“For me,” says Nasher, “going to D.C. was something I’d never done before in my life.” Coming to the United States from Bangladesh five years ago, he’d assumed that most of his experience of this country would revolve around Suffolk University and its immediate vicinity of downtown Boston.

“When I heard about the Journey program,” he recounts, “I thought, ‘That sounds great,’ and signed up for it. Studying and working at school, you don’t expect to get the chance to go out of the state and do these things. It was awesome, walking around and exploring D.C. with other students.”

Going Global

Suffolk Journey students pose by the beach during a visit to the island nation of Barbados.

Back in his office at Suffolk, DeAngelis shares some video footage of a recent Journey trip much farther from campus than Washington or Florida—to the island nation of Barbados.

“I wanted to give a one-week immersion experience to students who didn’t have the opportunity to go abroad,” he says, as images of a golden sun setting across a broad, tree-lined bay play out on one of his computer monitors. Describing the genesis of the trip, he continues, “I was on the board of directors of the National Association for Campus Activities at the time, and we were brokering a deal with the Barbadian government about music. As I toured the country and met politicians and learned things, I was like, ‘[the Journey] should come here. This is going to be our next stop.’”

Suffolk Journey students pose for a photo with some of the native people of Barbados during a visit.

That was in 2012. Every year since then, DeAngelis has taken a group of Journey students to Barbados during spring break to begin exploring leadership in a global context. There, they tour historic sites as well as local colleges, meet both campus and civic leaders, and experience the island’s culture through food, music, and discussions with Barbadian citizens. The program’s longest trip, an entire week in the Caribbean, also allows for plenty of happenstance, as when students on a recent visit met King Bubba FM, a popular Barbadian DJ and producer, while out on the town one evening.

“It’s such a good trip,” DeAngelis grins, as the footage on the monitor jumps from images of dim sea caves to men dancing on stilts—tantalizing glimpses of the horizons that the program opens up for Suffolk students.

The Dream Becomes Real

Fireworks exploding on the sides of a caste at Walk Disney World.

In at least one respect, the Journey shares a goal common to many other Suffolk programs, that of connecting students to people and places outside the university, and unlocking new possibilities in their post-grad lives. Jessica DiLorenzo, BS ’17, first heard about the program during a presentation by DeAngelis at her freshman orientation in 2013. She was immediately intrigued.

“Watching the video of students swimming with manatees and the importance of experiential leadership had me hooked,” she recalls. The Leadership Winter Break trip to Florida would be one she participated in herself once she joined the program.

“I had never visited Disney as a kid, so I was pretty excited to see what all of the hype was about,” DiLorenzo says. “Once I walked down Main Street U.S.A., the morning we had our tour of the Magic Kingdom, I totally fell in love. I left that night thinking that I could totally work for Disney.”

Suffolk Journey student alumna Jess DiLorenzo posing in front of Splash Mountain, the Disney ride for which she now works.

At her job these days, DiLorenzo puts to regular use the things she learned on that trip, particularly how best to communicate with customers and coworkers. Now a full-time cast member, as they’re called, at the Walt Disney World Company, she interacts with and assists thousands of guests of the park every day. She started working at Disney immediately after graduation in a paid internship through the Disney College Program, an opportunity she learned of while visiting with the Journey.

That transition from Suffolk to Disney represented a major change (and a long way to travel) in a relatively short time, she observes, but it was a change she felt ready for. “I moved to Orlando one week after graduating from Suffolk, and I have created a brand new lifestyle for myself that I absolutely adore. Taking part in the Journey Leadership Winter Break showed me exactly what I wanted to do with my future, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.”

"The way I look at it is, these programs are helping students develop employability skills—leadership competencies that will help them. They’re learning these things in the classroom—how to problem-solve, etc. But they need a platform to put theory into practice. And [the Journey] is an opportunity for them to do that."

David DeAngelis Director, Student Leadership & Involvement

Learning By Doing

Suffolk Journey students sailing a boat in Boston Harbor in 2012.

As easy as it is to get carried away by the exciting activities and compelling experiences that make up the Journey, it’s equally easy to lose sight of the overall effect of the program on the students who participate in it. That would be a mistake, but one that’s simple to avoid with a leadership-oriented tactic encouraged by the Journey: shifting one’s perspective. Pulling back and reflecting on it, the overall reason for the Journey comes into focus. It’s a purpose-built, transformative moment in the lives of students, opening opportunities and possibilities for growth that were uncommon—or even absent—in their lives before.

And perhaps most importantly, it recognizes that leadership is truly an experience to be lived, not merely an idea to be pondered.

“College-aged people don’t always want to be lectured or have things drilled into them, especially the stuff we hear all the time,” says Robb. “We’ve been hearing about the importance of teamwork since we were five. We don’t want to keep hearing that. We want to experience that.”


The Journey
Student Leadership & Involvement

Alex J. Martin
Office of Marketing & Communications

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