Students of the Year rely on complementary leadership skills


Brian Hayes

Dane Laughlin and Kavya Natesan, the winners of the 2017 WSU Student of the Year scholarship, pose for a photo.

“DNA” and “history” — these two seemingly unlike words connect Students of the Year Kavya Natesan and Dane Laughlin.

Both went through an application process that entailed individual interviews, five essays, and presentations about words that best describe their leadership careers and connections to campus.

“The word that I chose was ‘DNA’,” Natesan said. “When I looked at it conceptually, DNA is a lot of what I am learning a lot about as a biology major, but I thought I could expand DNA to describe communities, societies and how we interact as well.”

“Much like millions of DNA molecules come together to create one person, numerous people have to come together to create a community.”

Natesan said diversity in communities is as essential as it is in DNA.

“We have to embrace the diversity of our community as well to recognize the importance of every single person to make a cohesive community.”

Natesan is a pre-med student majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and philosophy.

Laughlin studies biomedical engineering and is also a pre-med student. By choosing the word “history” to describe his time on campus, Laughlin said he wanted to encompass all levels of his personal and communal history.

“Leading up to today and who I am right now, WSU has played a big role in my history,” Laughlin said. “The other premise that I talked about in my presentation is that WSU has a lot of firsts . . . and we share a lot of firsts with students every day.”

Natesan and Laughlin have known each other since the beginning of their collegiate careers. The two students of the year said they have great respect for each other as leaders in their shared community, even though they showcase their leadership on different platforms.

“Dane is a phenomenal leader,” Natesan said. “He is a very warmhearted and approachable individual. It is interesting when you look at our involvement, and the diversity between the two of us.”

“I think I differ in helping people understand that you don’t have to be Greek to be a good leader.”

Natesan and Laughlin worked together on a team in the Shocker New Venture Leadership competition. Laughlin said the experience highlighted both their differences in personality and their complementary strengths as leaders.

“I would describe Kavya as very high-energy,” Laughlin said. “She is very well-educated on what she knows and is willing to stick to that education which I appreciate about her. Besides that, she is very empathetic and likable in conversation.”

“I am probably a little more slow-paced. She talks very fast, which is what I mean by high energy . . . where I am more relaxed, laid back and, as far as complementing, you need that.”

Natesan and Laughlin agreed the leadership competition was a positive experience.

“I am very thankful for the whole process,” Natesan said. “It was very reflective for me, being able to understand the scope of my leadership and being able to recognize the change I have personally been able to make. I am thankful to have been given a platform to not only share my story of leadership, but to also help others find their own stories.”

By the end of the process, Natesan and Laughlin said they had solidified their leadership goals and hoped to continue prioritizing empathy and diversity while advocating for active leadership.

“I don’t think that being an effective leader is using titles to do so,” Laughlin said. “It is more about the relationships you build, the people you inspire.

“When people ask how I am going to use this title, the real answer is that I am not. It is nice, and I feel appreciated, but if I have to use my title to get something done, then I am not doing so effectively.”