The Institute for Responsible Citizenship, a highly-competitive, two-summer-long leadership program for the nation’s top young African American men, has a motto that has rung true for 19 summers: “preparing extraordinary men to do extraordinary things.”
Even today, this mission has been ingrained in the program. UNC sophomore Jovan Sheshbaradaran, who was accepted into the Institute this past month, looks forward to doing these extraordinary things through conversing and connecting with his cohort of peers in the program.
“No important leader got to any point of substantial success in their life without having some sort of difficult conversations,” Sheshbaradaran said. “If we’re truly trying to get through the mission of the program of preparing and equipping the next generation of Black leaders, I think that that's what makes these difficult conversations so important.”
Sheshbaradaran, with UNC sophomore Max Morant, will be having these difficult conversations alongside other scholars from across the nation over the next two summers in the Institute’s Washington, D.C. program. This year’s 8-week summer session will convene on June 6.
During the program, the scholars will be housed at George Washington University as they develop critical leadership skills while learning about the economy and government. Each scholar will also participate in an internship pertinent to their field of interest.
Morant and Sheshbaradaran are both majoring in business administration, and Sheshbaradaran is a double major in political science.
At UNC, Morant is heavily involved in the Black Student Movement on campus and served as Mr. Freshman of BSM last year. He writes for Black Ink magazine and Coulture magazine. During his first year, Morant also served as parliamentarian and sergeant at arms in the Undergraduate Senate. Morant is also a resident advisor on campus.
Sheshbaradaran is involved in Minority Business Student Alliance with an executive role, and is a peer mentor with the Minority Advisory Program. He is about to begin his position as the student life and leadership diversity outreach coordinator for the Carolina Union. Sheshbaradaran is involved in Cru, a campus ministry, and he interned at his local church last summer.
To be selected as scholars, Morant and Sheshbaradaran completed a written application and interview process.
“One thing I like about the Institute: they focus on getting to know you rather than the kind of generic application,” Morant said. “It wasn't like ‘I'm super hard working.’ They know all that already. It's really more about your interests and how you can parlay that into how you can use that to do good for the community.”
The program is unique in its length and the long lasting connections formed through it, William Keyes IV, president of the Institute, said.
“We're really building a strong and cohesive network of men," Keyes said. "In a lot of cases, students will go do a summer internship someplace, and then never be in touch with the people they met during that internship again, whereas these men become a part of the network that they will benefit from and contribute to for the rest of their lives.”
This past summer’s program was virtual as a result of the pandemic, but Keyes is hopeful that the upcoming summer can be conducted in-person.
UNC junior Sam Timmons, a current scholar at the Institute entering his second year, said this past summer was still impactful, even with COVID-19 modifications.
“I'm hopeful that we'll be able to get up there this summer and hopefully, you know, take advantage of the in-person part of the experience, but all in all it was still an incredibly powerful summer for me,” Timmons said. “It's not just an internship, it's really a leadership program.”
Both Morant and Sheshbaradaran have different career aspirations they hope to achieve with the help of the Institute.
In the future, Morant said he hopes to conduct financial research and promote financial literacy and economic empowerment in the Black community.
“I’m passionate about uplift for the Black community,” Morant said. “At the end of these two summers, I hope to have a clear understanding of how I can parlay my financial understanding into meaningful research.”
Sheshbaradaran is interested in the intersection of business and politics, specifically in foreign affairs and diplomacy. He said he is looking forward to his internship at the Institute combining these two interests.
The cohort of individuals in the Institute is one of the program's steadfast aspects. This community is what Morant said he is excited to experience this summer.
“I'm just super excited to get to know those people and see what type of experiences they've had, see the commonalities but also the differences in their experiences, and just expand my network in that way,” Morant said.
Sheshbaradaran is also anticipating the conversations he will have with a range of individuals during the program.
“Having those like really deep conversations with him and with other guys around the country who are experiencing far different things than I've probably experienced is what I'm really excited for,” Sheshbaradaran said. “I really like to get into those nitty gritty, make-you-feel-uncomfortable kind of conversations. I think that that's where real growth happens.”
Regardless of major or interests, Morant recommends that prospective scholars at UNC apply to the Institute in the future.
“The skills you learn from the program are transferable, and it's definitely not going to limit any of your options regardless of what you decide to do,” Morant said. “If there's anybody who's heard of the Institute and is considering if it's something they want to do, I'd say just throw your hat in the ring.”
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