IELC: A Transformative Experience – written by Weldon Bradshaw, featured story from “Reflections” series on This is an interview with Clare Sisisky, Collegiate’s Director of Responsible Citizenship and Strategic Planning.


This weekend, the world comes to Collegiate.

Forty-five students representing 11 nations from the far reaches of the globe will arrive on the North Mooreland Road campus to participate in the International Emerging Leaders Conference.

Hailing from South Africa, Morocco, France, Italy, Spain, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, India, Malaysia, China, and Mexico, they’ll join Collegiate’s 18 senior ambassadors for nine days of study, collaboration, exploration, and fellowship. 

From October 3-12, they’ll seek solutions to environment and economic issues, grow to appreciate each other’s cultures and respect individual differences, and, if history holds true, have a life-altering experience that they will carry with them always.

One recent afternoon before the already fast pace became truly frenetic, Clare Sisisky, Collegiate’s director of responsible citizenship and strategic planning, shared her thoughts and observations about the fifth annual conference. 

What’s the IELC’s focus?

Every year, the focus is the global economy and the environment. We pick this issue because environmental challenges don’t stop at national boundaries. They require international cooperation.

The students bring different issues from their home countries. Every group does a presentation. Then we regroup to work in teams.

For example, if a group from Lebanon brings waste management, that impacts all the countries in that region, so international collaboration is important. We focus on the economic part because all environmental challenges have a big economic dimension. Bringing the two things together is really important.

Why is the IELC so vital to the Collegiate experience?

It’s really important for our students to have the skills to collaborate with people that are different from them. They’ll use those skills in college where there are a significant number of international students across every campus.

In today’s world, they’ll need to work with and negotiate with people from different countries or different parts of the US or even right here in Richmond. Having the diversity of perspective and ideas really helps collaboration. We want them to be able to lead and facilitate and bring people together around a common purpose.

In this program, they design a product in a team. We have one to two Collegiate leaders in that team, and they take them through a product-design process. It’s entrepreneurship and business, leadership and cross-cultural communication. 

What will the participants get out of the conference?

We want them to have the skills to be successful in any field: like being able to work in a group, being flexible and adaptable, and communicating. We also teach them skills of creativity, innovation, how to design products, and entrepreneurship. We want them to feel empowered and comfortable in the world and connected to their peers around the world.

What has made the IELC so successful?

It’s the impact on the Collegiate seniors that are involved. Students have shared things like “Now my presentation in AP biology seems easy.” They have confidence going into college. We’ve seen a lot of our graduates study things that are related and feel more confident in their ability to meet and connect with new people, hold leadership positions, and overcome challenges and unpredictable circumstances. They’re not afraid to go out into the world, try new things, learn new languages.

And it’s so worthwhile to see a whole campus transformed for a week. We work very hard to make sure every Collegiate student has a meaningful interaction with our guests from a Lower School town meeting and class visits to Middle School advisory visits.

What does hosting the IELC show about Collegiate?

That we’re forward thinking and looking at education as preparing and teaching our students to have the skill set and confidence to go into the world and seize every opportunity. Over the past five years, it has become a model for other schools and school districts, both public and private. It’s exciting to think about education evolving in that way. Collegiate is leading by example.

What’s your long-term hope for our students who participate?

To feel comfortable in the world and know that people from different backgrounds and places can connect, have meaningful relationships, and collaborate. (The IELC is) not all holding hands, happy times. They’re tackling really difficult problems, challenging issues, and they disagree.

That’s what we want, so they know that whatever field they choose, they’re able to feel confident in themselves, overcome challenges, and connect.

                                    — Weldon Bradshaw