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Get to Know … Heather Domonoske

By Jarod Urrutia

Fourth-year student, Journalism

Heather Domonoske’s passion for leadership led her to Cal Poly’s Center for Leadership in June, when she took on the position of lead coordinator. With a diverse background in leadership development in tow, Domonoske plans to take everything she’s learned throughout her career and pass it on to Cal Poly students who want to explore their untapped potential. She recently spoke about her approach to the position, her ideas for engaging students, and how she can help them develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

What is your vision for the Center for Leadership as their new lead coordinator? Are there any changes or goals for the center you wish to make?

My vision for the Center for Leadership is to continue building a center that facilitates leadership growth and development opportunities for all students. This includes enhancing the current programs we offer to make sure we’re expansive in our discussion of leadership topics. We’re also making sure we market our programs so that students know about us, so we have our students on the Peer Leader Engagement Committee focus a lot on social media and engaging with students online. I also hope to foster new ways that students can engage and learn through our center. Additionally, this year I will be focusing on increasing our partnerships with academic colleges in hopes of increasing the ways in which we engage with students.

Tell me about your decision to come to Cal Poly. What drew you to the university and the city?

My decision to come to Cal Poly was based on the potential I saw in the growth of the relatively new Center for Leadership (which originally opened in April, 2015). I’ve always had a passion for equity and social justice work, and I believe that leadership programming is a great medium for that. I’ve had a lot of experience with professional collaboration, including time spent as an outdoor program coordinator, teaching leadership seminars at the Bowling Green State University, and as a resident director at Evergreen State College. I’m very excited to combine the range of experiences I have with my passion for working with college students.

I also came here because I’m a California native who grew up in the Los Angeles area. I’m excited to be living in California for the first time in 10 years!

Why should students participate in the Emerging Leaders Series and Developing Leaders Series? What do you want students to walk away with when they participate in one of your programs?

The Emerging Leaders Series (ELS) is a great opportunity for students to reflect and engage in conversation about what leadership is and who leaders are, while reflecting on themselves and their lived experiences, passions, and identities. We hope to foster new ideas about leadership for students and dispel the ideas that leadership has to be positional; that leaders have to be perfect and cannot make mistakes; that the person with a leadership title is the best or only leader in a group; or that followers are below a leader or not as good as leaders.

The Developing Leaders Series is a great next step to think about applying concepts covered in ELS and thinking deeper about what it means to be an agent of social change.

ELS is unique because it is not graded and is based on activities, discussion, and reflection. Our staff who facilitate ELS and DLS aren’t traditional teachers, but facilitators who help to put into action the type of leadership values we hold in our center.

I have lots of hopes for what students will get out of one of these programs — that students can see themselves as a leader, can have an increased sense of who they are and thus how they lead, and can have more tools and resources for enacting and leading in their daily lives.

Tell me about your personal approach to working with students and helping them in education and leadership development.

My approach is to meet them at their level while helping them advance their understanding of aspects of leadership in relation to themselves. A growth mindset is critical for this work, so I strive to bring that mindset to the ways I engage with students. I try to be a mirror that reflects back to students the impact they have, while helping them learn to hold up their own mirror as they increase their self-awareness. I think leadership development is inherently linked with personal development, and so I see my role as someone who works with all aspects of a student’s experience and education. Similar to how we talk about leadership being non-positional, I think being an educator is not just one position or mindset to take — it’s an ongoing journey. I hope to be a resource, an ally, and educator, an advocate, and a person who provides high levels of support while also challenging every student’s growth mindset.

Employers are often looking for a variety of skills like managing conflict, guiding a team, time management and building interpersonal skills. Though these might not be called "leadership" in surveys, these are all skills we work to provide students at Cal Poly.

Tell me about an experience in leadership that has really stuck with you through the years and has impacted your approach to leadership education. 

Instructing wilderness-based courses with Outward Bound was a six-year experience that has greatly impacted my approach to leadership education, my life and my work as an educator. During instruction, I would often facilitate discussions or ask reflective questions while challenging students to dig deep emotionally, mentally, and/or physically while being right there with them. While I may be seen as the lead instructor, I was constantly learning and engaging with my students and co-instructors. They pushed me to be my best self and expanded the ways I think about the world around me. Helping teenagers become leaders in the outdoors when they may have never slept outside requires a variety of skills and unending compassion. I strive to bring similar aspects of experiential education to how I educate others, no matter the context or setting.

Interested in supporting the Center for Leadership and the students it serves? Visit https://studentaffairs.calpoly.edu/givetoday/areas. For additional information, visit the Center for Leadership website or email leadership@calpoly.edu.

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