Reflecting on a year at KLI from the prospective of an undergraduate exchange student


My time at the Kravis Leadership Institute” 

By Florian Zacher Research Intern & Scholar at Kravis Leadership Institute Student of Psychology, Neuroscience & Business at Medical & Business School Berlin, Germany Founder of REASON - Research & Consulting

“As a German student from Berlin university I had the possibility to work for one semester at the Kravis Leadership Institute. My contact with KLI began long before I arrived, in Germany. I started my search for an organization I would like to join and felt with my psychological and business background that the research field of leadership would be great to go deeper in. I am fascinated about leadership and the impact leadership can have on organizations and societies. I also had written some seminar papers about leadership before. So I took a look at my used sources of my papers: Names like Day and Riggio stood there. It didn’t take long and I came across the Kravis Leadership Institute: A place where all these researchers are working together focused on leadership, embedded in one of the best U.S. colleges the Claremont McKenna College, in a state like California. 

I got in contact with the institute immediately and from day one Dr. Sherylle Tan, the Director of Internships and leading researcher in the field of women and leadership, supported me to make my journey come true. During the visa process things weren’t always easy. But five months later when I arrived in America at KLI I knew it was worth it. I was welcomed so warmly from all of my new colleagues that I always had to remind myself working at KLI with some of the best researchers in the world. The organizational structure in the United States and especially at the Kravis Leadership Institute is very flat. The institute has an open door policy. So whenever I had a concern I was able to share my thoughts with my colleagues. Prof. David Day Academic Director of the institute was always open for a conversation too: for just a small chat in the morning or a bigger issue to solve. This is way different from German work structures with strong traditional hierarchical positions. What surprised me for example compared to the German system: In my first week at KLI, Prof. Ronald Riggio invited me for a lunch, and Prof. Day invited me for a talk with him. This gave me the opportunity to speak about my goals I want to archive at KLI and to align my work schedule to my objectives. 

My goals for the time at the Kravis Leadership Institute were manifold. Really important was not to see my work environment as just a place of work but as a place of my vocation. Therefore I saw KLI as a central reference point of my life, and wanted to participate actively in as many ways as possible. One of my main objectives was to get into the world of research at KLI to see how researchers work in terms of typical tasks like literature review as well as collecting and analyzing data. But I also hoped to see how researchers work specifically in the United States. I wanted to gain an insight of different research topics and student teams inside of leadership and was fascinated to see how a research institute is organized and works from inside. A big aspect of my curiosity was on the American culture to learn the differences and qualities compared with my background, and to bring my German background actively into the institute. Personally I liked to increase my research skills, communication- and public speaking- skills and to grow as a person in another country and unfamiliar situation. 

But besides of these aims I had one main goal: I wanted to give back to the institute as much as I could for giving me the chance to be part of this organization. And I think this approach opened me a lot of doors during my stay. Because of my proactivity I got the chance to join amazing groups and events. For example: Dr. Tan invited me to participate in her Women and Leadership class. I’ve learned over a period of fourteen weeks historical backgrounds of women in power, issues of female leaders because of gender inequality, advantages of a gender equal society and more. Through these topics I wrote different papers to improve my research and writing skills and held presentations. I attended to the Women and Leadership Workshop and learned from life experiences of female alumni, former CMC president, and students about women in leadership, and to find the own way in life and life priorities through talks and different tasks with the participants. In addition I created the Women and Leadership Workshop Report, analyzed data from the surveys, calculated the results and improved my report writing skills. 

During my time at KLI I was part of the Institute Team composed of students and institute members. So I could help in advertising and promoting the institute as well as working on social media for the institute. I loved to work with Marilyn. We created promotion flyers for the KLI Conference, flyers for SOURCE competitions and other events. We saw a way to improve the digital marketing of the institute and created a comprehensive concept for the social media future of the institute. Because of my interest on different student studies I also had the chance to join the study: The influence of the American culture on leadership development. I could work with other students and contributed experiences from my german perspective. We shared our study updates every second week at the research meeting and Prof. Day, Dr. Tan and Prof. Riggio helped us to go on in the study progress. During my stay I always tried to be a bridge between the institute staff and the students. Students at the Claremont McKenna College are highly ambitious and at the same time so open minded that it was really easy for me to find amazing friends on my journey. The student lab was my main workplace and gave me the possibility to be close to other students in case they needed support. I had the chance to go on the KLI Retreat with many of them to practice leadership inside of a group over one weekend. 

Besides of the student study I worked on my own study to analyze how life habits influences leadership development but the days were mostly filled out with amazing events. I joined presentations of Prof. Day, Prof. Riggio or Prof. Conger and learned many different aspects of leadership. We had a board member meeting with Stuart Williams in which he shared his life experiences of the business world and I got the chance to meet Prof. Jay Conger to have a mind changing lunch with him about consulting and our life journeys. 

One of the biggest events during my time was the 27th Kravis-de Roulet Conference. I was allowed to help in preparation for the conference and in organizing the conference dinner. I created a reflection paper of my experiences at the KLI conference and I just can say those experiences were amazing. High position people from Google, Harvard, Pepsi and other famous places shared over two days their opinions and thoughts about leadership and I could interact with them over the whole weekend. 

Later in the semester at the Institute Night @ the Ath we supported our institute at an evening of presenting different purposes and studies of every research institute of the Claremont McKenna College. At the Leadership dialogue with the topic: Gender and Leadership, students, staff and leading researchers of the institute came together for a lunch dialogue to talk about issues like prejudices of today’s gender world and how to attract more people into these topics. The list of amazing events at the Kravis Leadership Institute over the semester was nearly endless. 

My colleagues always made me feel as a full member of the Kravis Leadership Institute. From my perspective I see them more like a family than just colleagues. I loved to come to the institute every morning and this is really important. It helped me to go to work after five months with the same motivation as I did on the first day. And American work days can be long. It is not mandatory to stay longer but I really liked what I did so It was a pleasure for me to work sometimes till the late evening with my friend and colleague Marko to complete a paper. He was a scholar from China at KLI and helped me in the beginning to adapt really fast to the work style of the institute. In addition Prof. Day helped me to get in contact with people around the institute. So I met for example Prof. Werner Zorman at Harvey Mudd College. We became friends and he invited me to his T-Group for Interpersonal Dynamics with American students. 

So besides of my work at the Kravis Leadership Institute I’ve learned on evenings after KLI in the T-Group over 11 weeks, to improve my communication skills, to build trust, to take risks in dealing with others, to stay calm in the face of criticism, and to solve conflicts inside of a group. I also had the chance to get to know Prof. Paul Zak from the Claremont Graduate University and his Neuro- Economics lab. On Wednesday lunch I participated in the christian group at CGU with Carrie Herr. We had events and trips on the weekends and I found amazing friends there too. In addition I played Basketball at CMC and went on hikings in the sounding areas. 

The experiences at the Kravis Leadership Institute were incredible. But what did I learn here? First of all, I gained a deep understanding about leadership and what it takes to be a leader. To be a great leader takes more than just stereotypical attributes like an outgoing personality and public speaking skills. Great Leadership is about responsibility. It is about taking care of others to help them grow in sometimes taking myself back and make them the most important persons in the room. It is about listening to the needs of followers to really understand issues instead of pretending to have answers. And it is about being a role model for followers in inspiring them and behaving in that way I want to see from them. I learned these attributes in my time at the Kravis Leadership Institute not just from studies, presentations and classes. Much more I gained these experiences everyday from working with these amazing people. I could observe these traits in how everyone in the institute treated each other with respect and authenticity. In America the employees will never criticized as a person. Only the statement and the topic is questioned. All these attributes shown by my colleagues over more than five months helped me to get a deep insight of how a research institute works. To collect data, searching for literature, evaluating surveys, calculating and all the steps which are necessary to publish a research paper is a long process. But the institute does way more than just that. They organize conferences, promote their researchers, and consider how to spend funds. But most of all they have committed themself to help students to grow. 

Besides of my gained professional skills I’ve learned one specific thing: The importance of human relationships. I wanna thank my colleagues of the Kravis Leadership Institute for an unforgettable journey. Especially I wanna thank Dr. Sherylle Tan and Prof. David Day for believing in me from day one and encouraging me to always share my point of view which helped me to realize that instead of trying to please others, being myself is the biggest quality I can bring into a team. I will never forget this human greatness of you. I wanna thank Prof. Jay Conger and Prof. Ronald Riggio for their approach to work. Even if their schedules were packed all day, they always entered and left the institute with a smile. They showed me how important consistency is. Without commitment, I'll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, I'll never finish. And finally one big thank you to all students of the Claremont McKenna College I met at KLI. It was a pleasure to spend our time together, and to get to know you as persons and friends as well as to explore your work style and your culture. 

I will take all of my experiences and memories from the Kravis Leadership Institute back to Germany and will arrive in Berlin as a different person. There can be no other approach for me than implementing my gained knowledge about leadership into my professional life as well as my personal life. I will never forget one sentence Prof. Day said to me in the first week: ‘‘At KLI you can achieve your goals. It is just depending on you what you want to do with your time.’’ And my time at the Kravis Leadership Institute was amazing.”

All the best, 

Florian Zacher Research Intern & Scholar at Kravis Leadership Institute 

Reflections from a Visiting Researcher: Marko Liu’s Takeaways from KLI

By Gina Wu ‘19 and Jennifer Bernardez ‘22

Marko presenting at the 27th annual Kravis de Roulet Conference

Marko presenting at the 27th annual Kravis de Roulet Conference

It has been nearly two years since Marko Liu first came to KLI with hopes of changing the Chinese view on leadership. Frustrated with his findings that the Chinese often focused their efforts on leadership development too late in the process, Liu was drawn to the progression of leadership development, changing the scope of his career and leading him to a two-year stint in Claremont.

As Liu’s time at KLI draws to a close, he is quite pleased with what he has accomplished. As a full-time researcher at KLI, he took part in several leadership development programs and worked with Professor David Day on a chapter in Professor Ron Riggio’s newly released edited book—What is Wrong with Leadership Development and What can be Done about it?

Much of his research will be published soon as well. Liu wrote an article regarding the harm that over parenting can inflict on an adolescent’s leadership development in the Applied Psychology Journal that will be out later this month. The study surveys 1200 families in China and examines the impact that over parenting has on leadership emergence and self-efficacy in adolescents, which remains relevant today given helicopter parenting in the United States and China.

Another of his publications, titled “Across the Life Span: Dynamic Experiences-Grounded Approach,” uncovers his conclusions on lifespan leadership which will be published in Leadership Quarterly, coming in August 2019. From his research, Liu notes that “leadership currently focuses on adults in the workplace but it should focus on other stages in life such as preschool, childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and late adulthood. There are important benchmarks and experiences to develop and have at each stage.”

Before returning to China, Liu presented his research on leader development across a lifespan at the 27th annual Kravis de Roulet Conference. In Beijing, he will be taking a professorship position with the Beijing University of International Business and Economics with plans on integrating his KLI experience to his teaching career.

“KLI has a very warm, productive, interpersonal culture which really impressed me. When I first arrived, I felt pressure because of the well-known professors here, but when I settled in, I realized that everyone was really close. Anytime I had a new idea that I wanted to discuss, professors David Day and Ron Riggio always welcomed me in.  I think that this encouragement, especially toward undergraduate researchers, is something that I really appreciated. I hope to bring this attitude to my future students. I want to encourage students to think more and view me as an equal to promote discourse,” Liu said. 

When reminiscing about his time here, Liu is very grateful for his experience: “I was very happy to work with professors and meet the students. KLI and CMC is a wonderful place, everyone is positive, friendly, and warm. KLI is my family because everyone treats me as a family member here and always includes me in events. I benefited a lot from this institute and I would like to give something back to KLI. I will miss the people here.”

With research experience from KLI as part of his Ph.D. program in his repertoire, Liu is slated to graduate from Beijing Normal University in May 2019.

Leadership Dialogue Series: Identifying the Nature of Good Leadership

By Robert Cain ’21

Professor David Day (left) with attendees of the first Leadership Dialogue Series

Professor David Day (left) with attendees of the first Leadership Dialogue Series

There is no doubt that CMC places a heavy emphasis on leadership, but does it actually inform or educate students on the qualifiers of good leadership? In previous years, leaders faced different challenges than leaders today. Therefore, leadership has evolved over time. It is important to address the ways in which these changes have impacted our current perception of good leadership so that we can successfully modify our leadership practices.

On September 24, the Kravis Leadership Institute hosted its first discussion in the Leadership Dialogue Series facilitated by David Day, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology and Steven L. Eggert ’82 P’15 Professor of Leadership, and KLI Academic Director. These intimate gatherings occur once a month with the goal of establishing a group of students and faculty who are deeply passionate about topics pertaining to leadership. For this discussion, the conversation evolved from two questions: what is the nature of good leadership, and how do we develop leaders for the 21st century?

According to Professor Day, having exposure to leadership studies or formal leadership roles is by no means a requirement to attend the dialogue series because “at the end of the day, we all hold an implicit leadership theory, regardless of our experience in formal leadership roles.” One student expressed how she felt unsure about attending due to her limited leadership experience, but this response quelled her concerns.

Interestingly, it was everyone’s different leadership background that informed the conversation because it encouraged diverse responses and perspectives. For example, when Professor Day asked the group about what they felt qualified as good leadership, each responder held a slightly different opinion than the next. To some attendees, good leaders have empathy, impact lives, and take responsibility for themselves and others. To others, good leaders listen, empower their communities, and respect the beliefs of others. Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all definition for good leadership.

As for the second question about developing 21st century leaders, attendees agreed that the conditions for leaders have changed significantly. Lee Skinner, Professor of Spanish and Associate Dean of the Faculty, noted how 21st century leaders must know how to leverage and interact with technology. Moreover, “access to information has transformed the nature of leadership. Now, it’s more about what to do with information rather than simply knowing it. People, leaders included, must collaborate in order to succeed in the 21st century,” according to Fernanda Lozano ’20.

At the end of the session, I chatted with Jen Petrova ’19 who shared her thoughts on why it’s important to have these discussions on CMC’s campus.

How did you like today’s Leadership Dialogue Series?

I really liked how it was a combination of not only students but also staff and professors. Hearing everyone’s different opinions is extremely valuable especially when discussing the topic of leadership.

What did you learn today and how do you plan to apply what you learned to on-campus jobs and your future career?

I learned that leadership is ambiguous because good leadership can be subjective, but at the end of the day, leaders have a responsibility to the company, the people, and the planet. Also, I learned the value of not leading with an egocentric lens but rather thinking about how my leadership can improve the lives of others.


Do you think there are flaws in how CMC students view leadership? Is there room for improvement?

In general, I think there is always room for improvement in regards to leadership. One thing I love is how KLI not only offers classes in leadership but also hosts leadership dialogue series. This allows us to understand what we value in good leaders and then try to apply these traits in our professional lives. I definitely recommend more students attend these dialogue series as a way to enhance their leadership capabilities.

It’s true: good leadership can be ambiguous. However, KLI seeks to clarify this uncertainty by starting a dialogue around what it means to be a good leader, both on campus and in the workforce.

Join us for our next session on Monday, October 29 in Kravis 103 from 12:15 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Team KLI's Approach to International Leadership Association’s Student Case Competition

By: Alina Rainsford ‘20

Student Team Members (Left to Right): Edgar Warnholtz ’19, Alina Rainsford ’20, Vanessa Romo ’19, Leya Aronoff ’19, Christian Tchamitchian ’19

Student Team Members (Left to Right): Edgar Warnholtz ’19, Alina Rainsford ’20, Vanessa Romo ’19, Leya Aronoff ’19, Christian Tchamitchian ’19

Our team had an amazing few days at the 20th Annual ILA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. We were tasked with analyzing a contemporary socio-political-economic problem on a notional or global level. Our topic of research was applying transformational leadership to address the lack of adequate public education to refugee students resettled in the USA. We chose to focus on urban refugees as 60 percent of refugees are now living in cities and dispersed among host communities rather than in camps.[1] Whereas refugees in traditional camps were offered educational services within the camps, urban refugees must be more self-reliant in meeting their basic needs and finding educational opportunities. Hence, urban refugees face the challenge of integrating themselves into formal and informal economies and existing structures, namely local education systems.

More than half of all refugees are school-aged, thus it is alarming that refugees are five times more likely to be out of school than the global average.[2] Millions of refugee children and adolescents do not enroll in schools in their host country: only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary school; only 22 percent of refugee youth have access to secondary school; and only 1 percent of refugees have access to higher education.[3] Past research has supported the need to ensure the educational needs of refugees are met, as past research indicates education is important in social and emotional healing of refugee students.[4]  As the average length of displacement for refugees is up to 20 years, now is a critical time to address the lack of educational access for refugees.[5] 

                We researched five systemic causes that have contributed to the lack of access to education for refugee students in the USA: Individual, Social, Cultural, Political, and Economic.  In terms of individual systemic causes, refugee students often cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, homesickness and stress over family separation. Social systemic causes include overcrowded and underfunded public schools and teachers lacking adequate training and resources to properly support refugee students. Cultural barriers include xenophobia in host communities, and varying levels of English proficiency in the refugee students. Economic factors include the fact that refugee students are often expected to work to provide for their families. Additionally, resource allocation is left up to each individual school district, and thus reflects the socio-economic condition of the area, and varies significantly from area to area. Furthermore, there is no one unified system to place students in different schools.  Politically, support for refugees fluctuates.

Our solution is to apply transformational leadership in 3 ways: building a coalition of existing organizations dedicated to the cause to streamline resources and efficiently work together; creating an interdisciplinary task force at the city level comprising of local legislators, economists, psychologists, educators, and representatives from organizations that work directly with refugees; and lastly, partnering with education technology startups to set up personalized curricula online to get the students up to speed, whether that be learning English, or catching up on core subjects. In each solution, transformational leadership is used to combine separate and disjoint initiatives to achieve a shared common goal. Additionally, in the task force, team transformational leadership is used, and the members of the task forces are influencing each other to achieve their common goal. 

During this conference, our team changed from a group of acquaintances to a high-functioning team that collaborated very effectively. We rehearsed our presentation really effectively, ensuring we had smooth transitions and an engaging narrative, reminding our audience why they should care about this issue. We attended many sessions at the conference, from leadership in times of crisis, which was very applicable to our presentation, to women in leadership. The experience helped us all develop our collaboration and presentation skills, and was a rewarding experience, as we got to apply something we had learned about in school to a real world issue that we all deeply care about. We are thankful to KLI for making this experience possible!

*Student Team Members: Leya Aronoff ’19, Alina Rainsford ’20, Vanessa Romo ’19, Christian Tchamitchian ’19, Edgar Warnholtz ’19

[1]  Katz, B. & Brandt, J. (2017). The refugee crisis is a city crisis. Brookings Institution.  Retrieved from

[2] UNHCR (2017).  Left behind refugee education in crisis. Retrieved from

[3] Ibid.

[4] McBrien, J. (2005). Educational needs and barriers for refugee students in the United States: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 329-364. Retrieved from

[5] Mendenhall, M., Russell, S. G., & Buckner, E. (2017). Urban refugee education: Strengthening policies and practices for access, quality and inclusion. Teachers College Columbia University. Retrieved from

How We Rise: Strategies for Social Innovation – My Take Away from Tracy Gray, Founder of The 22 Fund

Tracy Gray (left) during the keynote lunch panel at the 26th Kravis-de Roulet conference.

Tracy Gray (left) during the keynote lunch panel at the 26th Kravis-de Roulet conference.

Linnea Uyeno '20

KLI launched the third of the four Non-Profit Success series conferences on March 1, 2018 incorporating it with the Kravis-de Roulet conference (KDR). How We Rise: Strategies for Social Innovation was a day and a half focused on developing skillsets required to accelerate transformative and lasting impact.

The program kicked off with an Athenaeum dinner where Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, gave her keynote address on executing responsible leadership in the 21 century. The official launch the following morning, began with two speeches—one from Tina Rosenberg, Co-Founder NYT Fixes Column, on Building a Culture of Solutions Thinking and another from Kathleen Kelly on social startup success, on How Do the Best Startups, Scale Up, and Make a Difference.

The momentum continued throughout the morning and all breakout session participants came together for lunch for an impressive panel of female serial entrepreneurs, venture capital (VC) founders, and social innovators. These female leaders talked about their diverse career paths and shared their respective journey towards social innovation. The women encouraged students to take advantage of the growing momentum the social innovation trend has gained in the corporate sector.   

It was amazing to hear the diversity of options surrounding a career in social innovation. Tracy Gray, founder and managing partner of The 22 Fund, and Executive in Residence at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) talked about founding her own VC that targets funding for women and people of color and her experience at LACI. She spoke about gender disparities in venture capital industry. Over the last twenty years, there has been a decline of women in VCs. Gray thought there was something wrong with this equation, so she started her own VC to democratize startup investment.

Gray explained, “I wanted women to know that they were empowered to change the world. If women had the same access to capital during the recession, we would have created double the jobs. It is an economic empowerment to invest in women.” The 22 Fund VC is currently raising their fund and is looking towards investing in the future.

“All of this is very opportunistic no trade-off because women and people of color’s companies are more successful at almost every measurement of financial return. I am not trading off anything. I just have to invest in things that have a mission and be intentional about the returns I want to get.”

Gray left the audience with an inspiring endnote that resonated with many CMC students, especially given our preprofessional inclinations.

“I wanted to make a ton of money, and I wanted to do a ton of good, and I was constantly being told that I couldn’t do both. My goal was to find ways to do good and not trade off market rate returns. Now the world is understanding that this is possible,” said Tracy.

This lunch proved to students that they do not have to decide to make that trade-off. It showed students the multitude of options that are available to them in social innovation.