The Centennial Center for Leadership recently welcomed Professor of Economics Tom Drennen to its third Leadership Café. Over dessert and coffee, Drennen spoke about his personal leadership story, how he empowers student leaders to pursue their big ideas and the ways in which the community can tackle tough environmental challenges.
During his more than 15-year tenure at the Colleges, Drennen has championed environmental initiatives on campus. In particular, he spoke about the Colleges’ Climate Action Plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2025, and explained the importance of student initiative in achieving that goal.
“It is important to create a culture where big ideas are invited, failure is considered to be a part of the learning process and leaders are empowered to take risks,” says Drennen, whose message was particularly powerful and poignant due to the Colleges recent agreement to get 100 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
Wes Traub ’14, a Latin American Studies major who is triple minoring in economics, Spanish and international relations, attended the talk due to his interest in environmental studies. “The most important thing Professor Drennen said was that he promotes leadership by empowering students to succeed,” says Traub. “He gives students the tools and opportunities, and lets students do the work.”
This past summer, along with Sustainability Coordinator Jamie Landi, Drennen helped support Maeve Donnelly ’13 and Noah Lucas ’13 as they analyzed alternative energy options.
“Working with Professor Drennen this summer was an invaluable experience. His enthusiasm for the project was contagious and really kept us going. He certainly guided us through our research and kept us on the right path, but Noah and I really did most of the legwork,” says Donnelly, an environmental studies and philosophy double major who attended the Leadership Café. “I’m sure there were times where he could have intervened, but he allowed us to make our own mistakes and learn for ourselves. I don’t think we would have the same sense of accomplishment or pride in our work if Professor Drennen had a different leadership style. That’s what I admire most about him, his ability to empower students.”
Drennen argues that leaders are set apart by how they use their resources and the eventual outcome. “Failure isn’t always a bad thing,” says Drennen. “It is persevering through failure that separates good leaders from great leaders. Leaders should be secure enough to allow for multiple ways to reach a goal or end result. Leaders that have been successful in creating innovative environments assemble talented individuals, empower them to think big and encourage them to make the changes that they want to see in the world.”
A senior staff economist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., Drennen holds a Ph.D. in resource economics from Cornell University, a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota, and a bachelor of science degree in nuclear engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.