Seventeen student leaders had a chance to swim with manatees in Florida as part of weeklong Leadership Winter Break program.

The two days spent with the gentle giants in Crystal River bolstered a series of leadership lessons and complemented the students’ participation in a public hearing about whether humans should be allowed to swim with manatees.

“The experience of swimming with the manatees was eye-opening,” said Patrick Nobrega, a junior. “We were all a little nervous at first, but then we were fine once we learned how gentle and kind they were. They were like 800-to-1200-pound big, fuzzy potatoes.”

A 4-year "Journey"

The University’s four-year leadership program, known as “The Journey,” offers an intensive leadership experience each year to complement what students have learned in the classroom.

“Our students get a firsthand look at what their peers are doing at other universities, and it gives them a different outlook at how they’re doing things here,” said David DeAngelis, director of the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement. “It’s an extremely successful program, because the students learn so many good leadership-development skills.”

The Suffolk contingent visited the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa, meeting with campus administrators to discuss their leadership programs.

“It’s very positive because everyone exchanges ideas on how they can better improve their roles,” said DeAngelis.

The students also learned about the Disney leadership style during a backstage tour at Disney World.

“It’s hard to describe to people, but this week is something you can definitely apply to your life from a leadership perspective,” said Nobrega. “It taught me how to better interact with people, and I even got to know my fellow students leaders at Suffolk a lot better.”