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Meet Leadership Certificate Student Kaylee Kooyman ‘21

June 1, 2021

In this Q&A post, you'll get to know Kaylee Kooymana Leadership Certificate student, as she reflects on parts of her HoneyRock and Wheaton College experience.

Where are you from? 

Santa Barbara, California. I came to Wheaton originally pursuing a major in Communications with a theater concentration. After participating in Wheaton Passage and Summer Leadership School (SLS)—where I took the first class of the Leadership Certificate—knew I loved learning like this. I decided to pursue the Leadership Certificate and, along the way, added a Christian Formation and Ministry Major.  

I’m graduating Wheaton with a double major in Communications and Christian Formation and Ministry and the Leadership Certificate. 

How did you first hear about the certificate? 

My mom, actually! She was on the Wheaton College website and pointed it out. When she saw SLS and that a leadership class was offered as a part of the training she encouraged me to do it. Growing up, I never had really seen myself as a leader—so it’s not necessarily something I would have opted into myself—but the people around me said they see me in that way. I had already known about HoneyRock from participating in Wilderness Passage (Canoeing) and was encouraged to apply for SLS from my Passage leaders and a friend who was a longtime HoneyRocker, so I decided to give it a try.  
 
I talked with Ashley Kiley, a Program Director at HoneyRock, about it and she shared more detail—the classes, experiential learning opportunities, and community aspect. 
 
What really stood out was the progression of leadership HoneyRock seeks to teachLeadership begins with the individual. You first learn how to lead yourself well, which really focuses on building self-awareness. You then progress to how to lead others, teams and finally, organizations. I had never learned about leadership from that perspective before but it resonated with me.  
 
Through my experience of SLS—it was a crazy summer—there were so many instances where I was able to reflect and see what worked and what didn’t and how I could have done better not only as I led my campers but also how I worked with my co-leader.  
 
Honestly, because of the difficulties of that summer, I almost did not want to go back to HoneyRock. However, as I reflected on my experience, it was those difficulties that led to growth in myself and my leadership. The Lord brought me back to HoneyRock, not only for another summer, but multiple times in between and I continued pursue the Leadership Certificate in earnest.  

What was the community aspect of the certificate like? 

Our cohort was small, but going through the classes and leadership experiences together really bonded us. We grew so comfortable with one another and built a lot of memories. We had such a good time. I think the nature of the Leadership Certificate—the classes and leadership experiences just really work to bring you together. When everyone is super invested it becomes a safe space to grow. We’ve seen each other at high highs and low lows and it’s been powerful to reflect through that together.  

You just finished the Integrative Seminar, the capstone class of the Leadership Certificate. What were some highlights or key takeaways? 

We had a lot of reflective conversations and writing prompts. On specific prompt that Rob asked of us was to look at a certain leadership model and reflect on it, to review the past four years and describe how our leadership style has changed, to highlight where we have grown and the setbacks we have faced. He challenged us to be honest and aware.  

I looked at the scared, insecure freshman student who needed people to call me into leadership—I could not pursue it on my own. As a senior, I have been blessed with various leadership opportunities such as SLS Counselor, an RA, a Unit Leader, these experiences have been extremely influential and have shaped my Wheaton experience and built my character in the best way.  

In the class we also talked a lot about calling and purpose. We were able to share this with one another and talk a lot about organizational leadership—what kind of organizations we want to step into but also personal leadership and leading from wherever you are. In the class Rob shared “You can be a leader wherever you are. You don’t have to have the big title in an organization. You can be a leader as you go into a coffeeshop and sit down to have a cup of coffee.” It was really cool to head into my final semester of Wheaton with that in my mind. 

How has your relationship with Jesus grown?  

I think there are a few things that have really been grown throughout the certificate. Most importantly, I think, is my ability to recognize and trust in the Lord’s presence has changed for the better, especially through my leadership experiences. There were times I had to put all of my trust in the Lord to lead myself as I was leading others. It required me to step out of trusting myself and putting that into the Lord.  
 
Last summer as we led summer camp at HoneyRock through the pandemic, there was a lot of added responsibility—it felt like an impossible job. That experience taught me to know that you just can’t do it by yourself. You need to trust and know the Lord is present and will provide.  
 
My trust and ability to just be with the Lord have been grown—HoneyRock’s practices of Morning Watch, Cabin Impacts, etc… have taught me how to be present in the holy chaos of leadership positions. I’ve learned how to lean on his compassion and providence in order to love on others well.  

How have you been challenged in the certificate?  

Something that is challenging in this certificate, is that it teaches you to step into humility by really learning your strengths and weaknesses. The experience part of it, whether you are counseling campers or supporting counselors, or organizing programs, or even leading Zacco, can bring you to the end of yourself. You can get to a place where you see your brokenness so clearly and it can be hard to take, but it is there where you learn to see where Jesus comes in and heals that brokenness, where He comes in and fills the spaces where you cannot fill.  

With what you know now about the Lead Certificate and your Wheaton Experience, what would you tell your freshman self?  

If you have any doubt about pursuing the certificate…DO IT.  
 
I learned so much about myself—about leading others as well—but I just learned so much about who I am as a Christian and a lover of God and others. I wouldn’t have pushed myself as much without this Certificate. The internship requirements really challenged me into experiences that I wouldn’t have necessarily pursued on my own. The Lead Cert experience really drove me to pursue and then reflect on challenging experiences that grew me in significant ways through my Wheaton experience.