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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Dr. Bryan Hotchkins, left, co-founder of The V(i)llage, talks with Syracuse High School students Daisane Mulamba, Aaliyah Walker, Daniella Mulamba and Tierra Yancey after Invent You at the U, presented by the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and The V(i)llage, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY — Some people are born leaders, while others believe they have what it takes to become leaders if given the guidance and knowledge necessary to achieve their full potential.

When West High School senior Donald Sligh moved with his family to Utah from Atlanta a few years ago, he wasn’t sure where his life was headed. Now he has aspirations of one day becoming a surgeon.

Sligh attributes some of that ambitious direction to time spent interacting with similarly motivated high achievers involved in the inaugural class of The V(i)llage — a pilot program for African, African-American and students who self-identify as black, explained co-founder Bryan Hotchkins, professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Utah.

“Through this experience, students will learn how to approach problems from a variety of angles and perspectives in order to arrive at unorthodox solutions through team building,” he said. “Additionally, they will gain valuable rapport-building time with University of Utah administrators, faculty and current college students, which is an added benefit.”

Sligh said being involved in the program has helped him make connections with other students who are also looking to improve their lives academically and socially.

“It makes me want to strive harder to attain my goals,” he said. “It’s really been a good program.”

The V(i)llage partnered with the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to co-host the “Invent You at the U” college tour for middle and high school students Friday. The daylong event was organized in part to inspire future black innovators and entrepreneurs, explained Anne Bastein, program manager for the Lassonde Institute.

Invent You at the U is a program designed to provide young aspiring college students-to-be with educational experiences that challenge their ability to think critically and develop problem-solving skills that can be applied to real-world situations.

“A lot of what our role is as (university) ambassadors, as teachers, as mentors is seeing the entrepreneur and the innovator and the college student and the successful leader in them and helping them connect with the resources so they can blossom and develop,” Bastei said.

The V(i)llage, along with the Lassonde Institute, an interdisciplinary division of the David Eccles School of Business, organized the event to promote interest in innovation and entrepreneurship among black students who might attend the U. in the near future.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship require diversity, and this is a great example of our efforts to bring a more diverse representation of students to campus and get them involved in our many programs and opportunities,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Institute.

During the event, students participated in various activities related to student affairs and fact-finding, as well as an interactive tour of the newly opened Student Life Center.

For West High junior Amerique Phillips, participating in the program has offered her the opportunity to see where her future could one day take her and what she will need to do to guide her own destiny and support others like her in the community.

“Being a leader, you have to be secure in yourself and what you believe in,” she said. “You have to be confident and understanding of what is needed for society to benefit.”

Hotchkins said showing young people, particularly students of color, the myriad possibilities that exist beyond the world they see everyday can be a springboard for self-discovery and societal enrichment.

“This (event) is about innovation, entrepreneurship and something that gets them to use their minds in creating ideas about how we can make the world a better place,” he said.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: JasenLee1