Scholar of the Week: Aaron Grudowski

Technews Writer
Sun Apr 15, 2018
1. We all have our own opinions of good characteristics of a leader, but how would you personally define a leader?

There are a lot of different leadership styles. Regardless of style, success as a leader really hinges on your ability to effectively communicate with your team. Sometimes groups get off track or lazy, and you must be able to voice your opinions in a way that will motivate them to keep working and be successful. Additionally, the concept of knowing “when to step forward and step back” is a good rule for leaders to follow. As a leader, you do not want to constantly control or micromanage a group. However, there are times when they need guidance or help, and it is in these moments you step forward. If your team is doing well and making progress without your intervention, it is okay to step back and watch them succeed. Finally, being able to connect with and form relationships with team members is essential. As a leader, you are going to be put in charge of a variety of people: the "jocks,” the “nerds,” the “artists,” and more. Regardless, if you remain authentic, people will feel closer to you and one another. When this cohesiveness occurs, it allows teams to be more productive and successful.

2. What is the best piece of advice that you would give a future or incoming leader?

Know how to manage yourself. It is great to get involved so that you can set yourself apart from other students, but the key is to remember not to get over-involved. This is easier said than done, especially at a small school like Illinois Tech where there are ample opportunities for you to step into leadership roles. When you do join a lot of activities, you have chances to network and meet new people, which can often lead to internships and jobs! However, if you do too much, you start to wear yourself out. It can detract from your social life and, more importantly, your overall happiness. The point is, do enough to set yourself up for success, but also make sure to leave time for yourself. You are going to have to say no at times, and that is okay. It will allow you to hang out with friends, go out and explore the area beyond Illinois Tech, and make memories. You only live for a short time, so work hard and be proud of your accomplishments, but also play hard, and make memories you are going to remember for the rest of your life.

3. What would you say is an event or time in your life that you feel really turned you into a leader?

Definitely the Concrete Canoe. In the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), there is an annual conference that requires teams to design, construct, and race a full-sized canoe out of concrete. I was one of our team’s captains as a sophomore and junior and am now an adviser. It has been an incredible experience, and it has helped me in terms of my future career. Looking at the leadership aspect, it was the first big project where I was completely in charge. As sophomores, our other captain and I were still learning a lot about the project ourselves. Even more importantly, we had to figure out how to effectively run a team. I oversaw communication with team members, coordinated the schedule and supply ordering, and ensured group cohesiveness. I was a quiet kid at the time, and some of our group members were older than me. I felt like I had no authority or right to oversee them. However, as I obtained more knowledge during the year and got comfortable with my team, I started to learn how to effectively be a leader. I connected with everyone on a personal and professional level. Our core group of team members bonded immensely, and it allowed us to be extremely productive and successful. We relied on one another, and although our team was small, we got things done. Our team has not ever won the competition, but I know leading this team has helped me beyond what I ever could have imagined. It has helped me with communication, organization, relationship forming, accountability, and so much more.

4. What organizations or roles do you have on campus in which you are a leader?

Other than the Academy, I work in the Office of Undergraduate Admission as a Lead Ambassador. I began working in the office the summer after my freshman year, and I was just promoted this year. The other big role I have on campus is in ASCE, and of course, Concrete Canoe. I got involved with it all my freshman year, and as a sophomore, I became Treasurer and Concrete Canoe Captain.   We hosted ASCE’s regional student conference that year, and I was one of the main assistant coordinators for that event. I remained Concrete Canoe Captain my junior year, and I moved up to become Vice President. Now, as a senior, I am one of the advisers for our canoe team and ASCE IIT President. ASCE has provided me with such a wonderful experience, and it is honestly one of the main reasons I have loved my time at Illinois Tech.    

5. Some of the most defining moments for leaders are during times of difficulty or struggle. Has there been a time in which you were met with a serious problem and ended up becoming a better leader because of it?

Throughout high school, I was an extremely involved student. After applying to Illinois Tech and being notified I was a Camras Scholar Finalist, I told teachers of my opportunity. Everyone said I would be a shoo-in and had absolutely nothing to worry about. I had my interview at Scholarship Symposium, and although I thought I answered all the questions well, I did not connect with the professor.  I left my interview worried. Unfortunately, when I got the letter a couple weeks later, my fears were confirmed. I did not receive Camras.  It was extremely disheartening. There were so many times in high school my friends would be hanging out, and I would say, “Sorry guys. I have work to do.” Even with all those sacrifices, it was not enough. Sometimes, no matter how much work you put in or how dedicated you are, you miss your goal. It made me question whether putting forth so much effort, being a leader, was all worth it. At Illinois Tech, I still got involved my first year, but I tried to balance it with going out with friends and having fun. I did not want to miss out on anymore on experiences. After my break, I got involved again, and ultimately, this major conflict led to my greatest opportunity yet: Leadership Academy. Sometimes you must realize that it is not the end if things do not work out, because there are plenty of other, maybe even more amazing, opportunities awaiting you.

6. In what ways has Leadership Academy specifically helped you become a more prominent and confident leader? What has the Academy meant to you?

There have been so many wonderful aspects of the Academy, but I especially have to mention Rodney Vallejo, our Program Manager.  When I went on the Sophomore Leadership Retreat before becoming a Scholar, I knew Rodney as the important guy who sent out e-mails. At the retreat, I started talking with somebody I did not know, just having a great, friendly conversation. During the safety overview for the activity, a staff member asked, “Hey Rodney, can you help me with this?” The guy that I had been talking with walked over. He was Rodney! I had had no idea! Afterwards, I kept wondering, “Did I just make a fool of myself? Does he think I’m some goofy little kid?” It was a funny first introduction, but fortunately, I think it was a good one. Since then, Rodney has been a huge role model for me. He handles every situation in the most professional way possible, he is always fair, literally everybody that knows him thinks he is great. Honestly, if I can be half as successful as he is in whatever I pursue in life, both personally and professionally, I will feel pretty amazing. George Langlois, our Executive Director, is wonderful, and I cannot thank him enough for the opportunities he has provided me. And then Meghan Pickett, who is taking over for Rodney, has really become a great friend of mine. I love talking with her about traveling, favorite movies and music, life in general, and so much more. She has provided me with a lot of support over the last few years, and I really appreciate it more than I can express. Talking with the other Scholars, getting to know everybody, has been incredible. Leadership Academy is a commitment, but unlike most other activities I have been a part of, it does not seem like it. Some of my absolute best friends are in the Academy, and many of my favorite memories are from Academy events. Being in Leadership Academy has helped me realize that the saying “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life” is true. That is exactly how I feel about Leadership Academy.

7. What career objectives do you have once you graduate from Illinois Tech?

Since I am still going to be at Illinois Tech for my Co-Terminal degree next year, I have an internship with Canadian National Railways this summer. Assuming it goes well, and I am hopefully offered a position, I will most likely work there after graduation. I have also considered going back to school at some point to get my MBA. Honestly, though, I would really love to be an engineer for 15 or 20 years and work towards a degree in ecology. Becoming a park ranger, ecologist, or nature photographer has always been my dream job, as I would love to work with the wildlife and ecosystems that co-exist with us. I hope to move out west or elsewhere filled with nature.

8. Where is a place that you have always wanted to travel to but have never had the opportunity to do so?

I have two top places, number one being Australia. I loved Steve Irwin as a kid, and I always wished I could meet him. Although that is not possible anymore, Australia has everything from koalas and kangaroos, to penguins, and the Great Barrier Reef. They have rainforests and deserts, waterfalls and oceans. I really think Australia has such an amazing culture as well, and I would love to get immersed in it. The other place I want to go is Africa, specifically Kenya or the Serengeti. Like Australia, the diversity of wildlife there is just astounding. I just love all nature, and I just want to take in as much of it as I can.  

9. What is one of your fondest memories from your four+ years at college?

One of my absolute fondest memories is the regional ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference Illinois Tech hosted my sophomore year. It was the craziest year of my life, but I loved it. It helped me grow so much as a leader and person, and I honestly have no idea where I would be without the experience. I was really quiet coming into college, but my role in conference planning was to recruit judges and volunteers, so I was talking to 65 professionals in the area. It helped me open up and communicate a lot better with professionals and people in general. It was really successful, and I met two of my best friends because of it. It’s really special to me, and it’s one of those things I know I will talk about the rest of my life.  

10. Would you rather never be able to cut your head hair again, or never be able to cut your facial hair again?

I would probably go with never being able to cut the hair on my head again. I honestly hate beards. I never go without shaving for more than a week. They can get annoying, and honestly, they are gross when they are too long. 

Appears in
2018 - Spring - Issue 13