With the help of the California State University, Northridge SYNC (Strengthen Youth, Nourishing Communities) Cadet Program – a service-learning partnership between the Department of Communication Studies and the Los Angeles Police Department Cadet Leadership Academy – more than 500 high school-age cadets have been introduced to lifelong public speaking skills.
The program began when communication studies lecturer Jessica Baty-McMillan decided her advanced public speaking students should have the opportunity to go into the community and use their voices to create an impact. Starting with 20 cadets and 15 CSUN leaders in spring 2018 at the Topanga Police Station, the program now has more than 300 cadets and 50 CSUN leaders.
“Our most powerful tool is our voice, and we all have one,” said Baty-McMillan. “So even if your voice hasn’t been nourished or nurtured or you haven’t been given the resources to find it or use it, it’s there.”
For six weeks each semester, CSUN students lead two-hour workshops that take place at the Cadet Leadership Academy in Westchester. Each semester’s program begins with a CSUN campus tour to expose the cadets to higher education and to establish a relationship between CSUN students, community youth and the LAPD.
Baty-McMillan wasn’t sure how her students would respond to working with the LAPD. Within a few weeks, she said she noticed a flourishing relationship between students and officers, reassuring herself the program had more important implications than anticipated.
“What I most love is seeing both my students and the cadets feel empowered by the end of the program,” said Baty-McMillan. “Some of my students go in feeling a little hesitant about being a leader or working with youth. I hope that what everyone gets from this program is that a lot of learning happens outside of the classroom, and if we’re willing to get out of our comfort zone there can be a lot of growth.”
After completing the course, Baty-McMillan said she hopes students grow in public speaking confidence and see themselves as leaders in the community.
“This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said former advanced public speaking student Sean Duncan. “Every single one of us, every single day, has an opportunity to change someone’s life. Whether it be something small such as holding the door open for someone and putting a smile on their face, or helping someone overcome their biggest fear – many of the cadets in the program have told me speaking in front of crowds is their worst fear – you can change someone’s life. It’s something I’m never taking for granted.”
In spring 2020, the program will showcase a competition of the top cadet public speakers, hosted by the CSUN Debate Team. Cadets will use their newly acquired skills and compete in front of family, officers and CSUN student judges.
For more information on the CSUN SYNC Cadet Program, visit https://www.csun.edu/mike-curb-arts-media-communication/communication-studies/csun-sync-cadet-program.