University life is a time we often romanticize. We look forward to it when we’re in high school; we remember it fondly as graduates. It’s when we get to make bigger choices, and when we meet exciting people in organizations or other school activities. We see and observe, and we feel like we have permission to aspire – to be the greatest version of anything.
But imagine that time to be interrupted by the pandemic. For many students, everything shifted from tangible to virtual. That’s definitely what it felt like for Ateneo students Red Nadela, Maia Coronel, and Arvin Santos. These young 20-somethings have different learning styles, but all the same, the new online experience was an adjustment.
Meetings with groupmates became more difficult, lectures felt like constant homework, and for some, it took the joy out of learning. A similarity between the 3 students was that feeling of “losing the time [they deserved] to rest.” Weekends and weekdays became a blur, with classes, org work, and assignments merging together.
Still, they were all very driven individuals, and while extracurricular activities remained exciting, the process was, to put it simply, a drag. While looking for something to give them that extra push back into the joy of learning, juniors Maia and Arvin heard about Unilever’s Future Leader’s League (FLL) from their peers and invited their good friend Red Nadela, a senior who’s also on his thesis semester. After months of voluntary early morning meetings and intense preparation, they won the title of Future Leaders’ League 2021 National Champions on February 19, 2021.
How it all began
Red joined FLL before, but as a freshman, he admits he wasn’t ready then. He tried it out because he’s just the type who’s more into outside learning compared to classroom lectures. This year was also his thesis year, so he was extremely busy, but he wasn’t the type to be content burying himself in words. He was also heading a school organization and signed up for internships. Maia and Arvin are of the same type. They’re passionate about learning, wherever that may come from – classrooms, internships, or competitions. So they invited Red to join FLL with them this year.
“We just decided, why not?” said Red.
The competition consisted of two main phases: eliminations and finals. The 3 met completely online, around 2-3 times a week. Consultations from competition mentors also helped them with their case, which was about making Pond’s the number 1 brand digitally.
Of course, outside the competition, the 3 maintained their daily routines. For Arvin, he picked up a new hobby. “I would wake up before 8 am to jump rope to upbeat ‘80s music!” Maia was more into active rest; she listened to podcasts, made herself a nice warm cup of coffee, curled up with a good book before bed, or lit a candle and meditated for a few minutes. Red made a simple gym with his brother at home and practiced healthier habits overall.
As the finals grew closer, they became busier and busier. One of their most memorable experiences was staying up until 4 am the day before the finals and editing the script over and over again to get it below 10 minutes.
It wasn’t easy. “We [didn’t] have much free time as a group, which is why we usually came into meetings already tired,” Maia admitted. “Despite that, we still managed to get each other motivated to do the best we could.”
Going into the finals and winning
On the day of the competition, one of the group’s main concerns was screen-sharing their presentation, since it constantly hung or failed in some way during their practice runs. Another challenge was communication. “More effort is needed to communicate your ideas online; there’s now a loss of cues,” Arvin explained.
But when they finally presented, all three were excited. The mix of nerves made it so the entire experience was exhilarating. Looking back, the participants felt extremely valued. Maia explained, “I really appreciate how we are heard and how we are able to spread our ideas at such a young age.” For Arvin, he loved “seeing how the panel would react to the things that took [us] a lot of time and careful consideration.”
“None of us really expected to win, which is why we all looked like we won the lottery once our team name was announced,” said Maia.
Red agreed. “[All] of us screamed and shouted. Nakita tuloy shorts ko sa screen!”
The entire experience
Red, who’s closest to graduation out of the three champions, is thankful to FLL, “It’s both scary and exciting to think about facing a real nationwide scope… It made me more career-ready, especially as a senior. I saw a glimpse of the expectations employers would have from their best employees in the form of the mentors and the panelists, and I thought to myself that I need to be at that level.”
Arvin loved the feeling of being part of something bigger. “From setting meetings with people from different business functions to crafting realistic presentations, it was already as if we were a part of something bigger. [We didn’t want] to be subpar.”
“You will never have a perfect solution, just a better one after every iteration,” Maia shared. “This experience taught me to always be prepared and ready for anything and everything… I believe that I will always take these learnings with me as I step into my future roles and endeavors. Being a part of a program like this under a company that is well-renowned and being noticed for our work as college students sparks a truly amazing feeling.”
FLL 2021 didn’t only give these students a chance to dip their toes into the marketing world, it also allowed them to connect with their sense of school outside of classes.
While it was inevitable for the competition to go virtual because of the pandemic, Unilever still made sure that the experience they give back to young, future leaders was complete with mentorship, constructive criticism, and real-life challenges.