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Suitable Leadership

Jason Santos and his team launch Pirates Closet, offering business clothes to students who need them.

By Harris Fleming

Jason Santos was in a bind. He had precious little time or money to find professional-looking clothes for a Buccino Leadership Institute event at Seton Hall. So off he raced to Burlington Coat Factory to “put together everything I could” with $50 and the clock ticking.

He made it to the event on time, appropriately dressed, but the experience left the then-sophomore a bit downhearted — briefly.

“I felt embarrassed I had to go through all that,” he admits. “But then I came to realize this isn’t something to be embarrassed about, and it’s not a problem that only I face. It’s a problem a lot of my peers face. And it’s something there should be a solution for.”

The solution, it turns out, started with Santos himself. What if there were a resource on campus where students could just walk in and borrow suitable clothing for events where business attire is the appropriate choice?

He pitched the idea to peers in the Buccino interdisciplinary team initiative, which puts freshmen and sophomores together in semester-long projects that are completely student-run. Students with winning ideas get to act like CEOs, hiring a team to execute their plan to turn the idea into reality.

Fast forward to his junior year, and his inspiration is taking shape as the Pirates Closet, where students will be able to browse through donated articles of clothing for something that suits a business setting.

While Santos first envisioned the Pirates Closet as a lending program, the response has been so positive that it’s been recast as a giveaway program. “We have so many donations, we’re looking to open very soon,” he says. “Right now, we’re focusing on making sure the room [housed in the Career Center] is presentable.”

Initially, donations came from within the Seton Hall community. Then a story on the Pirates Closet found its way to Burlington Coat Factory management, who promptly pledged to donate 500 articles of clothing. Other companies are already following Burlington’s lead, ensuring that the clothing racks Santos and his colleagues are still assembling and arranging will be full in no time.

As with all interdisciplinary team groups, the Pirates Closet team reflects the breadth of students who participate in the Buccino Leadership Institute, coming to the program from schools and majors that include Business (Kyle Torre and Julia Boivin), Arts and Sciences (Graceanna Gargano and Abigail Hall), Diplomacy (Shweta Parthasarathy), Communication and the Arts (Ryan Johnston), Education (Adam D’Ambrosio) and Nursing (Tiffany Mendez).

Now in its fifth year, the interdisciplinary team program provides a way for future business leaders to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world situations. Some are so successful that they evolve into full-blown initiatives that live on after their creators have graduated. One example is Pirates Play, in which Seton Hall collaborates with the East Orange Department of Recreation on a youth sports leadership camp.

According to Elizabeth V. Halpin, acting Buccino director and associate dean of the School
of Diplomacy and International Relations, the interdisciplinary team program “is a practical application of the leadership lessons the students are learning. They get to try out their capabilities and the techniques they’ve learned and observe the way these things work in the world.”

Santos, who’s majoring in economics and mathematical finance and is the first of his family to attend college, couldn’t agree more. He especially appreciates the opportunity to apply essential management skills.

“There are a lot of things you learn outside the classroom that you can’t learn in the classroom. One thing I really came to learn was time management, as basic as that sounds,” he says. “I’m not only worried about my schedule. I also have to accommodate a team of other students.”

Similarly, he’s found that ensuring all teammates know their role is essential to both the success of the project and his teammates’ engagement. “It’s making sure everyone feels important. At the end of the day, I couldn’t do this all by myself. They wanted to be part of this, so I don’t want to do them an injustice by making them feel less valuable than I should.”

It’s exactly that kind of “servant leadership” that makes the interdisciplinary team program flourish, in Halpin’s eyes. “Jason is a visionary leader and a great example of what great minds can do at Seton Hall,” she observes. “He’s like a pinnacle example of who we want our students to be.”

Harris Fleming is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

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