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Mod. 1.2 - Critical Conversations

Identify and create a list of 8-10 people with whom to engage in a Critical Conversation before the end of this course. What is a Critical Conversation? It’s a conversation with intention; a conversation that matters to your development as a leader-human. It could be a conversation related to your capstone, related to what you are going to do once you graduate, or related to some aspect of yourself as a leader that you are working on or want to develop. Only you know what will make it “critical” or meaningful to you.

Identify individuals you believe have insights that would be valuable to you. Those that you have long wanted to talk with but haven’t dared to contact (but who, with the excuse of a graduate school assignment, might be more inclined to say ‘yes’ to a conversation). Reach out to someone you have long admired; or someone who seems quite different from you and this makes you curious to learn more. Reach out to someone that is important in your life and with whom you are overdue for an important conversation.

Here are your deliverables:

  1. Upload a Google Doc with a table in which you track: the names of the individuals you have prospected on your list, a 100-word bio for each, one question you want to ask this person and a day/time for the conversation.

  2. By June 6th, reach out to at least 2 people on your list that you want to meet with in the future and schedule your meetings.

  3. Aim to have all coffees scheduled by June 15th so they can be completed by July 23rd.


For my critical conversations, I’ve assembled a group of 8 leaders I’ve spoken with over the course of the MACL program. They are outlined below in the order in which I spoke with them. While each conversation was focused on questions of leadership and community, they were all framed through the lens of supporting my capstone planning. My original capstone idea was to work with local refugee resettlement organizations. I was inspired by Prof. Adel El-Huni’s course last fall in which I chose this topic for my social entrepreneurial business each student developed in the course. With Adel’s encouragement and connections, he facilitated an introduction to Sonia Anunciacion, whose work at Alight serves members of Minneapolis’s Afghani refugee community who were my intended capstone beneficiaries. Around this time I started my current position as Executive Director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra (BCO). The role brought many challenges that prompted conversations with Lauren Ruffin, Jonathan Martin (shout out to Diane for making the intro!) and Douglas Clayton, all of whom offered insights and different leadership approaches they’ve developed during their own careers to help me navigate these challenges. I’ve spoken with Michael Mael several times since I began at BCO because he lives in the area, is familiar with the company, and has been personally associated with one of BCO’s most important donors and board members outside of BCO for many years.

My conversation with Laura Brown from Asylee Women Enterprises occurred after capstone deadlines required me to change the direction of my capstone project. However, it was important to me that I honor the original intent of my capstone project and follow through with the opportunity to develop relationships with staffers of Baltimore’s refugee resettlement organizations to learn more about their challenges, ongoing needs, and the ways in which I could get involved. While my capstone project’s focus is no longer in this specific area, I intend to continue pursuing relationships with these Baltimore groups beyond the MACL program.


Critical Conversation #1: Adel El-Huni

Leader Bio: Adel has lived and worked in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America moving seamlessly between private, public and social sectors globally throughout his career. He has led efforts in public policy advocacy, socio-economic development, application of emerging technology trends, promotion of future foresight initiatives through experience in public affairs, design thinking, entrepreneurship, impact investing, and strategic philanthropy throughout the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

Focal Question: How have you personally applied the principles of social entrepreneurship you’ve shared with the Mackerels in this course?

Date: October, 2022


Critical Conversation #2: Sonia Anunciacion

Leader Bio: Sonia is the Afghan Program Lead for Alight, a nonprofit org working closely with refugees, trafficked persons, and economic migrants to co-design solutions that help displaced peoples build full, fulfilling and meaningful lives. Not simply basic needs, but a life filled with joy, dignity, connection, and purpose. She began her advocacy work immediately after the Taliban's takeover of her home country in August by collecting donations to deliver to Fort McCoy, a military base in Wisconsin. She was later hired by Alight to set up housing for newly arrived Afghan families.

Focal Question: How would you recommend someone who is unfamiliar with both Afghani and refugee resettlement culture, begin to start learning about both cultures in a way that could lead to a small but scary capstone project?

Date: November, 2022


Critical Conversation #3: Lauren Ruffin

Leader Bio: Lauren is an associate professor of worldbuilding and visualizing futures in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizone State U. Her research expertise is race, gender and accessibility ethics as well as economic justice in digital spaces. She is a co-founder of Crux Cooperative, an immersive storytelling cooperative that collaborates with Black artists as they create content in virtual reality and augmented reality. Prior to joining ASU, she led the Office of Movement Building at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and was co-CEO of Fractured Atlas. Ruffin has served on the governing boards of Black Innovation Alliance, Black Girls CODE, The Main Street Phoenix Project, and the advisory boards of ArtUp and Black Girl Ventures.

Focal Question: How do you convince the Board of an arts organization to invest in their staff’s ongoing education and development?

Date: December, 2022


Critical Conversation #4: Michael Mael

Leader Bio: Michael brings more than 35 years of executive leadership experience to his work on behalf of performing arts organizations. Most recently as Executive Director of the Washington Ballet, following nearly 10 years with Washington National Opera as Executive Director and nearly 5 years with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) as VP of the BSO at Strathmore. Mr. Mael has also worked in tech for companies such as Focal Communications, PSINet, and MCI Communications. Mr. Mael has consulted for symphony orchestras including the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. Mr. Mael received an AB from Brown University and an MBA from Stanford.

Focal Question: Would you be willing to act as a source of counsel and a listening ear during my tenure with BCO?

Date: March, 2023


Critical Conversation #5: Jonathan Martin

Leader Bio: Jonathan is the President and CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Jonathan has held this position since September 2012. Prior to that, he was the President and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from September 2012 to August 2017, President and CEO of the Charlotte Symphony from April 2008 to August 2012, and General Manager of The Cleveland Orchestra from February 1999 to April 2008.

Focal Question: What do you see as the benefits of a Strategic Plan? Would you be willing to write an email to BCO’s Board Chair to encourage her development of a Strategic Plan for the company?

Date: April, 2023


Critical Conversation #6: Douglas Clayton

Leader Bio: Douglas is the Co-Founder and Managing Collaborator at Creative Evolutions where his driving purpose is to create more equitable and effective ways for creative people to be successful in society. Prior to founding CE, Doug was a Senior VP at Arts Consulting Group, served as General Director of Chicago Opera Theater, and as Director of Programming and Operations for LA Stage Alliance. Doug has worked as a stage director, playwright, and performer and has experience as both an artist and producer with a range of theatrical unions in the United States. He holds a bachelor of science from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA.

Focal Question: How do I balance the responsibilities of managing BCO’s daily operations alongside the task of designing and overseeing the company’s search for a new Music Director?

Date: May, 2023


Critical Conversation #7: Laura Brown

Leader Bio: Laura is the Executive Director of Asylee Women Enterprises, a Baltimore based refugee resettlement support organization emphasizing community and providing a space for forced migrants, asylum seekers, foreign-born trafficking survivors, and other forced migrants to learn, share, and support one another. AWE offers a holistic approach to provide their clients with services to navigate the immigration process, begin to heal from past trauma, and rebuild their lives in Baltimore. Laura has a Master’s in Political Science from the University of Edinburgh.

Focal Question: In what ways could I as both a private citizen and resident of Baltimore and the Executive Director of a small orchestra be a benefit to you and your work?

Date: June, 2023


Critical Conversation #8: Sanjit Sethi

Leader Bio: Sanjit has over two decades of experience as an artist, curator and cultural leader. He received a BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, an MFA in Ceramics from University of Georgia, and an MS in Advanced Visual Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sethi has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships, including a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg foundation, and a Fulbright Fellowship to India. As an artist and curator, Sethi’s work has spanned different media and geographies including the Kuni Wada Bakery Remembrance; Richmond Voting Stories; and the Gypsy Bridge project. Recent curatorial projects have included Spiked: The Unpublished Political Cartoons of Rob Rogers and the upcoming exhibition, 6.13.89 The Canceling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition. Sanjit is the 19th President of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Focal Question: What methods or tactics do you use to manage the challenges and stress that can result from reporting to the college's Board of Directors?

Date: August, 2023

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