Tijuana Service Trip: Leadership applied through SMART Goals

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By Bryson Gardner

Tijuana Service Trip: Leadership applied through SMART Goals

Each time I travel to El Florido in Tijuana for the Engineering for Humanity service trip, it strikes me how lucky we are to live in a country where basic needs can be met easily when there is such severe poverty just a few miles across the Mexican border.EFH at LMU teams up with UCLA pre-med students each semester–creating an action plan aligned with several different leadership theories. We travel to the same Tijuana community 1-2 times each semester. The ramps and fixtures we build provide safe access for a large quantity of families seeking dental and medical treatment. We never fail to complete a task, whether building house roofs, building a soccer field, or building accessible ramps for those seeking medical attention. Weeks of planning precedes each trip to ensure all necessary equipment and travel arrangements are made.Each trip leaves Los Angeles at 5am and returns from 8-10pm. In our trip, the distinctive leadership style of conflict resolution called collaboration was used frequently; Engineers for Humanity collaborates with UCLA pre-med students to find the most efficient way to provide access to dental and medical clinics. We also collaborate with local families in the area to coordinate timing and to make sure enough families had time and rides to attend.

Organized and inspiring leadership allows our team to serve Tijuana’s community in a safe, motivated environment. After working hard to build a soccer field in my first service trip to Tijuana 2 years ago using shovels, PVC pipes, paint, and other tools, the community fed us lunch and interacted with us—playing soccer and having fun. Since then, I returned two more times for consequent service trips, the most recent being in early October this year. LMU’s EFH student leaders have displayed effective team building characteristics derived from several motivating leadership techniques and theories.

This semester, the Tijuana service trip presented the challenge of building ramps to provide safe access for free UCLA dental and medical clinics. Our Engineering for Humanity student leader was Dario Gutierrez. He showed consultative leadership characteristics by encouraging group discussion and collaboration to overcome construction obstacles. When team members disagreed on an approach, he made the most appropriate choices and proved himself as an effective leader. After Dario occasionally chose the wrong plan of action, he took responsibility and corrected his mistakes in accordance with the leadership theory of active management-by-exception. When team decisions of lower importance arose, Dario showed facilitative leadership, with the different engineers working together to create effective solutions. Since about 15 of us were planning and building ramps, a facilitative leadership style allowed Dario to evenly distribute work and responsibility to ensure maximum efficiency throughout the day. In these situations, everyone’s opinion mattered equally for planning and completing the task. In one instance, we improved our construction plan when a local passerby offered his construction experience upon seeing our struggle to level the ramp’s celling with the bottom of the dental clinic’s door frame. After a hard day of work and sweat, our smiling and exhausted team makes one final group decision—where to stuff ourselves with spicy tacos.