Mercy University’s School of Business (SBUS) Summer Leadership Academy has just concluded its 2023 session. By all accounts, the highly acclaimed program was a resounding success. Designed to help rising high school seniors hone the essential skills and knowledge that will prepare them for rewarding business careers, the program has grown from a small summer meet-up to a thriving academic program with global appeal. A total of 136 participants took part in this year’s Summer Leadership Academy, which took place on the Westchester campus.
“For more than a decade, the Summer Leadership Academy has offered authentic, hands-on experiences to high school seniors considering a career in business,” said Mahmud Wazihullah, professor of business and director of the Business Honors Program at Mercy. “Many come from high schools within the tri-state area, but the program is open to young people from all over the country and around the world.”
Founded in 2012 by Wazihullah and other SBUS faculty members, the Summer Leadership Academy has grown year by year. “We reach out to high schools to invite teachers and principals to nominate candidates for the program,” he said. Recruiting teams travel the country, and the competition is fierce, with about 400 applicants each year vying for approximately 40 spots in each of the three summer sessions. “In the past decade, our reach has expanded, attracting participants from all over the U.S. and even internationally—Romania, Germany, the United Arab Emirates,” he said.
During the week-long intensive, participants engage in learning and team-building activities while exploring a range of business careers and degree programs. The curriculum is delivered by eight members of the SBUS faculty who have made their mark as business leaders and entrepreneurs. One popular activity involves guided group visits to Fortune 500 companies, such as Morgan Stanley, Deloitte and Bloomberg, where they learn networking skills while making important connections. Didactic lectures and active-learning collaborations with fellow students challenge participants to think critically, build decision-making skills and develop the qualities of leaders. Along the way, they learn more about Mercy University and the many opportunities that are available with a Mercy education. The modest tuition covers meals and housing on the Dobbs Ferry campus for the week, plus all activities and local travel that the cohort does together.
Mentoring, a key component of the program’s success, is provided to every participant. This summer, the four faculty mentors were Robert Bohn, MBA; Victoria Drogin, JD; Susan Cooper, MBA, and Mark Chmiel, MSOL. Each mentor is assigned ten participants, and throughout the week they interact in groups and in pairs. Participants are encouraged to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, and discover more about business careers from someone who has made their way to the top.
Another key feature is the presence of Student Ambassadors — alumni of the Summer Leadership Academy and freshmen in the Business Honors Program who return to campus to serve as peer advisors. Four Ambassadors are invited to join each cohort, living in the residence halls and participating in most of the activities while sharing their experiences and offering encouragement.
“The students gain so much insight by interacting with their mentors and each other,” said Sofia Cialicu, associate director of business operations and Summer Leadership Academy coordinator. “Right from the start, the students realize they need to develop skills that may be new to them, like collaborating with a group that might be different from what they’re used to.” Public speaking, emotional intelligence and developing a personal brand are just a few of the topics they explore.
A high point of the week’s activities is the business plan competition, sometimes called the Shark Tank Project, after the popular reality show. Sophia Resolme, a 2022 Summer Leadership Academy participant, returned this year as a Student Ambassador, traveling from her home in Bakersfield, California, to attend. No stranger to such competitions — her high school team twice took second place in nationwide matches — she found the Summer Leadership Academy to have a winning formula unmatched by other programs she’s known.
“Mercy’s Shark Tank project was challenging and eye-opening,” she said. “Dividing up responsibilities between teammates and meeting with our advisors helped us perform well. Plus, I met so many students from all over the U.S. and other countries. It was a great experience, and I made a lot of good friends.” This fall, Resolme will enter Mercy as a Business Honors student—a common path for many alumni of the Summer Leadership Academy.
Wazihullah concurred. “We are so proud when we hear feedback from our participants. They tell us how much they appreciate the open-minded atmosphere, the dedicated faculty and the wonderful friendships they’ve made. Most say they don’t want the week to end. For them, the Summer Leadership Academy is transformational.”