Holly McNaughton, '19

February 18, 2019
Leadership studies fostered empathy in Holly McNaughton, '19

Empathy. It permeated her education in and out of her Jepson School of Leadership Studies classrooms, and Holly McNaughton, ’19, will take it with her when she graduates this May.

“The Jepson School forces students to make the connection between what they are learning in class and in the world outside,” she said. “Jepson ensures the learning doesn’t stop at the end of a 75-minute class.”

This approach to teaching helps students understand complex concepts and systems through the eyes of people affected by them.

“I built a friendship with a sixteen-year-old boy who was a resident at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center,” McNaughton said about her fall 2016 volunteer experience in her Justice and Civil Society class taught by Dr. Julian Hayter.

“My intellectual self was engaged in our class discussions about the historical causes that contributed to the flawed criminal justice system we have today,” she said. “My volunteer experience engaged me as a person.”

Although she doesn’t know what offense led to the teen’s incarceration, she said she does know that he believed the system was working against him and that he was not optimistic about his upcoming court appearance.

“My time with him was coming to an end,” McNaughton said, “but his time in the system didn’t have an end in sight. He likely wouldn’t go home for Christmas. Jepson gave me proximity to the real experience. After this, I have been unable to consider the criminal justice system from solely a sterile, intellectual perspective. Instead, I take that lesson in empathy with me when considering flawed systems.”

Her Jepson internship with business publication Fast Company Magazine in New York City provided another opportunity to connect theory to practice. “I was able to relate a lot of my Theories and Models of Leadership coursework to my internship,” she said of her 2018 summer experience in sales and marketing.

“The magazine was going through a merger with another magazine, while also adapting to the digital age,” McNaughton said. “Many employees were gravitating toward a charismatic leader, who made them feel secure in this time of transition.”

Her participation on the Jepson School’s Ethics Bowl team last semester further enhanced her ability to consider others’ motivations and opinions. She and her three teammates debated ethical issues with other collegiate teams at the Southeast Regional Ethics Bowl Competition in Florida in November.

“Being in the Ethics Bowl taught me to intentionally and critically outline my arguments and anticipate what my opponents would say in response,” McNaughton said. “It comes back to the empathy piece—understanding different perspectives on complex issues.”

Two classes taught by Dr. Jessica Flanigan—Leadership Ethics and Ethical Decision Making in Health Care—introduced her to philosophical thinking this year, said the senior from Providence, R.I. “These classes forced me to consider my own ideas that I thought were set in stone. Even as a senior, Jepson introduced me to new fields of study that I am just now learning that I love.”

After graduation, McNaughton will use her empathetic, interpersonal skills when she joins the New York City office of AlphaSights, a professional services firm. As an associate on the client services team, she’ll connect business leaders to industry experts willing to share their knowledge.

“The combination of my leadership studies and psychology majors has helped me understand what motivates people and given me the capacity to find common ground with anyone I come in contact with,” she said. “Understanding how to build a connection with others will be very useful.”