What I Learned After 4 Days at a Global Leadership Academy | Brianna Mercado

What I Learned After 4 Days at a Global Leadership Academy | Brianna Mercado

As I packed my bags in preparation for the Hesselbein Global Leadership Academy, I had no idea what to expect. Joan had told me countless stories about Pittsburgh and her life as an undergraduate. I was thrilled to peek into her past and learn more about this “Global Academy” that she so often spoke of.

Joan and I after the Hesselbein Lecture & Ceremony

Joan and I after the Hesselbein Lecture & Ceremony


Hail to Pitt!

After spending 4 days at the academy, I left inspired, motivated, and empowered to think bigger about my life and how I can make a difference in the world. The combination of outstanding scholars from around the globe partnered with all-star mentors all united to celebrate the teachings and wisdom of Frances Hesselbein made for an unforgettable and inspiring experience.


The Kuhl Kids brainstorming how to solve the “toxic” popcorn challenge.

Unlike the rest of the facilitators and mentors, I actually stayed in Pennsylvania Hall (in a beautiful dorm room overlooking the Cathedral of Knowledge) with all of the scholars, and was able to build close relationships with many of the scholars. I especially grew close to the 6 scholars that Joan was assigned- Andrew, Seth, Ieroniawakon, Presha, Rajesh, Danielle, and Seth. I can talk about how spectacular each and every one of them are for quite a while. (I will, in fact, in our upcoming podcast series Passion To Action, where I interview many of the Hesselbein leadership scholars. Stay tuned!) I named our little crew the “Kuhl Kids.” We proved our “coolness” after introducing Joan before her presentation on Saturday night with a rap. I wish we had video footage to show of it!

Our first team activity was assigned just minutes after we sat down and introduced ourselves to each other. We were sent up to the 6th floor to solve a challenging riddle involving a can of “toxic” popcorn and transplanting it from one bucket to another using nothing but rope and a deflated bicycle tire. I observed their creativity and ingenious ideas to solve the riddle, and after a few uneasy attempts, we succeed with just a few minutes to spare! I was amazed at how quickly we had accomplished our goal when it seemed so unrealistic and unachievable at first.

My favorite part of the day was when we had our meals. Each meal was an opportunity to sit down and get to know more of the scholars. I was completely in awe within the first day of meeting everyone. It is not everyday that you meet a group of such humble-spirited and talented young people. Every single one of them kept a direct and honest eye contact with me as I introduced myself. They listened intently as I shared my passions and biggest dreams. I could feel that they believed in me, which make me believe in myself.

My favorite part of the academy was our community project at the Magee-Women’s Research Institute. As some one very personally involved in the field of health care, I was fascinated to learn about the inner workings at Magee and what they are doing to change women’s health. I observed the Kuhl Kids as they brainstormed ways to improve Magee’s social media engagement. They worked for about 2.5 hours as a group, looking at the organization as a whole, defining the strengths and weaknesses, drawing charts and diagrams, and then they created targeted feedback and actions on how to increase social media engagement. In the last 30 minutes, they threw together a Prezi, assigned speaking roles, and then spoke to 4 influential staff at Magee. The Kuhl Kids were spectacular in their presentation, and the staff at Magee thought so, too!


Presenting at Magee-Women’s Research Institute


On Saturday afternoon, Toshiko Inoue, one of the mentors, spoke about constructing one’s story.  We were then assigned to draw our life stories, to sketch out 5 life changing events in our past, present, and future. Everyone shared such vulnerable and beautiful stories from their past, and inspiring dreams for their lives- from starting a business to help the youth in Nepal, to meeting President Obama twice, from dreaming of being on the cover of Forbes magazine to bringing justice to indigenous people. In listening to them speak about their past, present, and future, it was evident to me that this was a group of change makers. A group of people hungry for change- living life on a much larger scale, thinking about ways to dream bigger, always giving back, putting others first, and sacrificing all they can in hope of making a difference in someone’s life. I am so thankful to have been in their presence and to have shared these moments with them. During my 4 days at the academy, I learned to believe in the power of my dreams and witnessed what it means to truly “serve” others. As I continue moving through life, I will forever hold with me the energy of the Hesselbein Academy and the spirit to give back.