Change makers: A look at the Hamm Leadership Program

Students in the Charles J. Hamm ’55 Leadership Program take on the world.

Nicole Pellaton
August 1, 2017
Antonia Unger works with her capstone project team.

Antonia Unger (left) discusses a project with classmates.

On a hot morning in late July, 14 students sporting shorts and T-shirts clamber through the arched doorway into Academy Building 129. They enter solo and in small groups, chatting, and take their seats at the room’s round Harkness table. It’s the midpoint of Exeter Summer’s Hamm Leadership Program, an immersive two-course sequence, and these students exhibit the comfortable ease that comes from many hours spent working together in class and on projects.

Having prepared for class with an in-depth reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” they lean in toward the table’s center, ready to share ideas about King’s strengths as a leader. Short excerpts from the letter are written on whiteboards that circle the room: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.” … “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” … “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

A soft-spoken Greek student launches discussion with a question for his peers: “Do you think extremism is beneficial?” From the Navajo Nation to China, California and Brazil, these classmates span the globe, offering insights as diverse as their experiences.

Leadership in a complex age

Celebrating its 10th year in 2018, the Hamm Leadership Program teaches rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders about ethical leadership, with a dual focus on theory and practical skills.

“Some of the students have experience as leaders back home; others do not, but they all want to learn more about it and develop their leadership skills,” explains Elena Gosalvez-Blanco, director of Exeter Summer, who selects students for the program with an eye to engaging as many different perspectives as possible. In 2017, participants came from 11 countries, and more than half received financial aid.

“The biggest surprise for many students is that leadership is something you can learn,” says Tanya Judd Pucella, who has taught in the program for the past eight years and teaches leadership at Marietta College during the regular school year.

Using selected writings by Winston Churchill, King, Machiavelli and others, students discuss leadership traits, followership, situational leadership, and power and influence. They focus explicitly on inclusiveness in leadership, including the influences of culture and gender.

The practical skills seminar guides students through a progression from self-discovery (using personality tests and emotional intelligence surveys), to studies of group dynamics and the interplay of the group and the individual. By session’s end, students develop their own personal leadership philosophy. Along the way, they take advantage of many opportunities to practice essential skills including public speaking, conflict resolution, goal setting, facilitation and team management. The five-week program culminates in a capstone project where teams of three and four develop and implement a project of their own design that promotes social change at Exeter.

Ken Kameyama (center) and Smaiyl Makyshov prepare their capstone project presentation as Rachel Baughman, a Hamm Leadership teacher, looks on.

Changing the world one by one 

“I’ve always defined success by thinking about the philosophy statement they write at the end,” says Judd Pucella. “If the students walk away from this experience understanding that leadership is not just about them, but other people, and that it has an ethical component — those are extremely important to me. Many of them come in saying Hitler was a ‘good’ leader because they equate ‘good’ with what they consider to be ‘effective.’ To counter that, we read about bad leadership and look at different ways to be bad. I’ve never had a group, whether here or at the college level, that didn’t include some who were focused initially on people who have gotten other people to do really awful things.”

“I can see the change in me,” observes Ken Kameyama, a rising 11th-grader from Japan who says his teachers encouraged him to be more vocal. “They allowed me to realize that my voice is something essential in the group and now I’m really confident to speak up. … Everyone’s voice is so important. Around the table no one is superior.”

A budding entrepreneur

Antonia Unger loved the program’s focus on “developing yourself, growing out of your comfort zone.” Returning to Zurich, this rising senior expects to “go up to people a lot more,” and “go through life in a much more open way.”

“It was amazing sitting around the table with so many nationalities,” Unger says. “The more diverse the group is, the more creative and different ideas come together.”

As the leader of a recently launched internet startup that sells ginger shots — healthy drinks, available only in Switzerland — she plans to “challenge the other members of my team to talk more, to put in ideas and encourage them to take over control of a meeting.”

Unger hopes to become “an inspiration, a role model … who can change something even on a small level for people in the world.”

An airline takes off

At age 9, Smaiyl Makyshov ’20 dreamed of becoming a pilot. After two years shuttling between Kazakhstan and England, where he attended school for several years, Makyshov’s sights shifted to the analysis of airline efficiencies. Precocious abilities led him to a meeting with the CEO of Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s national airline, where the then- 12-year-old “talked with passion about my interest in aviation.” As a follow-up, Makyshov emailed an analysis of airline routes. “A year later I saw that one of the routes I recommended was opened,” he says. “I was thrilled.”

After attending the Hamm program, he’s intent on combining aviation and environmental science, a taste he developed at PEA’s ACCESS EXETER summer program in 2016, and he hopes to start an environmentally friendly airline. Fulfilling a two-year wish, Makyshov started this fall as a new lower in the regular session.

The power of charisma

“I thought leadership was more oriented to achieving results,” says Achilleas Martinis, a rising 11th-grader from Greece who now lives in Lausanne. “At Exeter, I learned that building relationships is as important as the results.”

The Kennedys get a little credit, too. It was during a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum that Martinis was struck by the 35th president’s charisma, and the power inherent in it. That same day, as the class practiced negotiation exercises in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, he struggled to build consensus. “I learned that you should focus on the similarities that unite people rather than the differences that divide them.”

Martinis leaves Exeter with a brand-new interest: science journalism. “Exeter has shown me to set high goals and reach for them.”  

Rugby athlete finds his voice

Ken Kameyama arrived at Exeter with some anxiety, but that soon melted away. “Everyone is so open-minded… It was a fantastic experience for me.”

“Japan is a very reactive culture,” Ken explains when asked how his life will be different when he returns home. “They keep themselves in their shells. I will be one of those to break that.”

He’s ready to hit the ground running with family, friends and the team he will vice-captain. “My goal is to have the new rugby team moving, flowing, to be the connection between the captain and the team members, to make the best team we can possibly make. Longer term, I learned that it’s not the position that makes a leader. It’s the personality. The skills. All aspects of a leader. I want to show my personality in the leadership I take.”

A legacy of leadership

“At Exeter, I learned to deeply respect the quotient of leadership.” —Charles Hamm ’55

Charles Hamm experienced his first Harkness table in 1951 as a summer school student, enrolling as a prep in fall of that year. After Harvard, he led two successful and vastly different careers, first in advertising at McCann Erickson, followed by banking at the Independence Community Bank. Hamm credits his success in large part to his formative experience at the Academy.

A desire to encourage students to develop their own leadership qualities led Hamm and his wife, Irene, to fund the Charles J. Hamm ’55 Leadership Program. Launched in 2009 with a curriculum unique among high school summer offerings, the program flourished. In 2011, the Hamms chose to fully endow the program, ensuring it will benefit students in perpetuity.

Hamm hopes the program will shape generations of students, helping them to “begin a never-ending process of thinking about appropriate leadership” that encourages them to create better lives for others. 


Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2017 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.