Learning What It Means to Lead | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Learning What It Means to Lead

As President of TC's Student Senate, Michelle Cammarata wants to increase student participating in addressing issues of TC's daily life. As an org psych student, she ponders new ways leaders can act to create benefits for all. A racist incident on TC's campus has meant a baptism by fire Cammarata on both fronts.
Leadership isn't just a catch-word to Michelle Cammarata. As President of the Student Senate, she is confronted with its challenges, trying to increase student participation and address issues of TC's daily life. As a student in organizational psychology, she ponders new ways that leaders can act to create benefits for all.

Growing up, Cammarata's parents worked blue-collar jobs, as a hospital cook and a locksmith, and she says their positions taught her about the power of management. "They worked in a world of tension: Either the employer wins or the employee does," she says. But Cammarata believes that working relationships aren't a zero-sum game. She's seen the perils of mismanagement first-hand, working as a research coordinator at a hospital after receiving her bachelor's degree from Columbia. "The organization was wonderful, but it was struggling, and a lot of the workers were disenchanted." She wanted to find a better way and that led her to TC's programs, with an eye on becoming an organization development and change consultant.

"I want to find a better way to make businesses functional," she says.

Although student government seems like a natural fit, she had never joined a government organization until she came to TC. "I loved it right away. Some people think that these organizations are just figureheads for the administration, but that's not the case, especially at a graduate school."

As a Columbia alumna, Cammarata wants students to know how many opportunities there are for people-on both sides-to cross 120th Street. "It's so easy to join student or to find a new niche," she says. But in the meantime, she wants to increase student participation in the Senate, to better address issues that affect all students, such as financial aid, as well as to get perspectives from each academic department.

As well as addressing student issues, she feels the Senate is a great way to learn management where it counts. "Leadership is a skill that can be honed; it's not something that comes naturally to everybody. It's really important to challenge yourself."

Published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007