With communication via social media so pervasive today, it is so gratifying to see that face-to-face conversation and the written word are still vital, effective forms of building connections and understanding.
Those observations came through loud and clear as I helped give exit interviews to graduating members of Class IX of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program March 24.
MARL is an 18-month leadership development program offered by the University of Minnesota and Southwest Minnesota State University to those interested in growing more, professionally and personally, as rural leaders. Class members attend 11 educational seminars held across Minnesota, in Washington, D.C., and at an international location. With the last graduating class, MARL now has 270 alumni across the state. I am a proud Class VI alum myself.
When selecting members for each class, the MARL board of directors keeps diversity in mind — geography, gender, ethnicity; farmers and non-farmers; professionals involved with policymaking, natural resources, agribusiness, nonprofits, government agencies, and education and academics.
The intentional mix of classmates is key to MARL’s success. As you learn about yourself during the self-improvement components of your educational seminars, you also gain greater understanding, appreciation and empathy for those with different backgrounds, vocations, careers and politics than yours.
Classmates become trusted friends
As you travel and learn together, many of your MARL classmates become trusted friends. And when you graduate, you know you have a priceless commodity just a phone call or text away: Someone who knows your strengths and limitations, and cares about you as a person, not just as a professional.
As we interviewed Class IX graduates and asked them various questions about the impact of the program on their lives, each one brought up the personal connections with classmates. We heard the common theme numerous times that “I’ve got 29 new friends that live across the state, and if I ever need help with something, they’ve got my back.”
We also received comments from some that providing commentaries or letters to their local newspapers was well-received. Dusting off their English grammar and writing skills wasn’t something on their radar initially. However, MARL encourages its members to use all forms of communication to demonstrate leadership, and expressing yourself in writing is an important component in that.
If you are interested in learning more about MARL, visit its website, marlprogram.org.
Applications are being taken now for Class X, and are being accepted through April 12. Apply online at marlprogram.org/application.