“This is your time,” says Lisette Nieves ’92, to a room of 40 Brooklyn College students in the Student Center on January 13. She is the first of three Brooklyn College Rhodes Scholars and the first woman and person of color to receive the distinction in all of The City University of New York (CUNY). “Go forth and lead.”

In a few short hours, the students will be in Callicoon, a town in upstate New York, for the 2015 Unity Retreat, a three-day workshop funded by President Karen L. Gould, created by Elliot Wasser ’02, and hosted by the Division of Student Affairs, in which select students are invited, during the winter intersession, to participate in extracurricular programming—including grant proposal writing, team-building exercises, lessons in self-care, and health and wellness activities—that will provide them with a set of supplemental skills to make them better students, better citizens, and better candidates in the marketplace.

In this lies Nieves’ power: to inspire those around her to be better, to do better, and to recognize that this requires dedication and the confidence to tap into their own potential. This is especially true since she shares the same socioeconomic roots, experienced the same challenges and struggles as the majority of the members of her audience. But most importantly, she overcame them and is now willing to pass those strategies on to the next generation.

“If my coming back here to share what I have learned serves, in any way, students as they pursue quality education at Brooklyn College, then I will continue to return,” says Nieves. “I return out of a sense of responsibility and as a part of my personal system of values.”

Nieves, who received her Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and political science from the college, is a social entrepreneur and leader. She is the former Brooklyn College Belle Zeller Visiting Distinguished Professor in Public Policy. Currently, she is a founding partner at Lingo Ventures, where she provides consulting services to the nonprofit and public sector on growth, talent recruitment and retention, and change management, and she is also commissioner on the White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. In addition to being a Rhodes Scholar, Nieves also a Truman Scholar and a Pahara-Aspen Fellow.

Using an activity known as the Leadership Compass, Nieves helped the students recognize precisely what kind of leaders they were, splitting them into four groups corresponding to the points of a compass based on their personal leadership styles. In short, north represents people who are known for their take-charge attitudes; south represents consensus builders, east represents people who are aspirational in their approach to leadership, and west represents people who are thorough and detail-oriented leaders.

“I’m telling you things that you might already know about yourselves,” Nieves says to the students. “What you may not have, however, is the language to frame it. And by giving you a common language, I’m helping you to remove friction and potential conflict and replace it with the potential for negotiation.”

Mickael Dejean was excited to be present for Nieves’ workshop and to be selected to participate in the retreat. He is a senior majoring in health and nutrition sciences, and is a volunteer in Civic Engagement and Orientation (CEO), and member of the Black and Latino Male Initiative (BLMI), the Black Student Union (BSU), the Haitian American Student Association (HASA), the National Black Science Students Organization (NBSSO), and serves as vice president of the Delta Chi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. Dejean, who identified himself as an east-style leader, believes his attendance brings him a step closer to reaching his personal, sociopolitical, and professional goals.

“I’m inspired by people who are doing great things for the campus and for their communities,” says Dejean. “By being a part of this positive interaction, I gain the skills I need to influence the campus, and my own community, in a similarly positive fashion.”

Nieves, who says that all great leaders are ever evolving and pivoting as situations call for ingenuity, is close to completing her Doctor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.