When GVPT alumna Danielle Harlan became a Terp undergrad in 1998, she had every intention of studying biology and following the pre-med track. The Columbine shootings in April 1999 changed all that.
“When the Columbine school shootings happened, I just thought to myself, ‘What is going on in this world and how can I be a force for good?’” Harlan said. “While I think medicine is a hugely important field, I felt like I (personally) would be more useful in the political arena, so I changed my major to Government and Politics.”
Harlan, who is now founder/CEO of The Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential, ended up double-majoring in Government & Politics and Business, focusing her studies on Marketing.
“It was honestly a lot of following gut instincts at the time without any real clear vision for the future, but I'm glad I chose the paths that I did because what I learned in both fields was extremely useful down the road vis-a-vis understanding human behavior, thinking about what it means to live a good life and build a good society, and understanding how to create positive change in the world,” Harlan explained.
After graduating in 2003 with her B.A. in Government and Politics and a B.S. in Marketing, Harlan went on to work as a special education teacher with Teach for America. Harlan then held various positions within their national organizations before beginning graduate school at Stanford, where she obtained her M.A. in Education and a Ph.D. in Political Science.
Harlan worked as the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, a national education nonprofit, before launching her own business.
“Eventually, people just started introducing me as, ‘This is Danielle...she does leadership’ and I took it as a sign that I should make a career out of that work, and eventually The New Alpha book and the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential were born,” Harlan explained. “Throughout all of these experiences, but starting at UMD for sure, I was exposed to incredible leaders, many of whom mentored me, and over the years I collected their advice, put it into action in my own life, and made sense of it in light of the theories and research that I was being exposed to in college and graduate school.”
The first of her family to graduate from college, Harlan shows her appreciation for the opportunities she has been afforded by “paying it forward.”
“I always say that I have the best job ever: I get to study exceptional people (and leaders in particular!) and share what I learn. That's exactly what we do through the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential: We take the best of what we know from experience, research, and practice, and use it to empower people to transform themselves, their organizations, and the world through exceptional leadership,” Harlan said. “Accessibility is a huge part of our organizational philosophy and we strive to offer as much as possible for free or at a reduced cost to EVERYONE.”
With accessibility and affordability in mind, Harlan wrote The New Alpha book, which works as a do-it-yourself guide to leadership development. Harlan shared some of the lessons in leadership she has learned at the University of Maryland Alumni Association’s own “Digital Disruptors” event onThursday, November 10 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“At base, I'm still asking the question every day that I asked after Columbine: ‘How can I be a force for good in the world?’ Only now I also get to help other people ask and answer that question for themselves, which is pretty awesome,” Harlan noted.
Harlan’s advice for current students also serves as the core message of The New Alpha:
“First, be a good human being—be kind and generous, act with integrity, always keep an eye out for the common good, be empathetic, and take care of yourself physically and mentally.
“Second, don't waste time trying to fit into some mold of who you think you should be; figure out what talents and qualities you love about yourself and that make you unique, and then go out into the world and make a difference in the way that only you can.
“And finally, if you want to do anything really big in this world, you're going to need help and support from others, but if you've paid attention to #1 and #2 on this list, then this step will come much, much easier.”