Honors College conference out front on leadership
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
In a job market that continues to evolve, particularly in the COVID-19 era, it makes sense why Grand Canyon University’s Honors College would choose the theme “Leading in the Age of Change” for its annual Leadership Conference.
Throughout the two-day event, which took place this weekend, Honors students had the opportunity to network with peers and industry professionals while also addressing some of the most relevant topics over the past few months, such as self-care and diversity.
“We’re focusing on the issues that have really impacted our students over the past year,” said Honors College Program Manager Dennis Williams. “We wanted them to hear from some effective leaders on how to grow and lead through these challenges in a world that is literally changing before their eyes.”
In addition to being a beneficial networking opportunity for students, the conference marked a milestone for the Honors College.
“It’s the first event (in the past year) that we’ve been able to have in person, where the entire Honors College is welcome,” Williams said. “Students, I think, are excited and ready to start connecting in person again.”
Friday evening, students and prospective Honors students were treated to a dinner and networking event hosted by Canyon 49 Grill on the nearby lawn, where they could hear from leading members of the Student Advisory Board, such as Camden Marasco and Chloe Campbell. The pair also played an integral role in organizing the event.
“This year we’ve had to be very innovative and creative, and so it’s neat seeing some of those creative ideas play out,” Campbell said. “It’s been an exciting process.”
Campbell and Marasco shared examples from their own lives of things not working out as planned. They also emphasized the importance of resilience.
“The topics we wanted to discuss are topics that don’t really get touched on a lot in a leadership conference,” Campbell said. “Those are just being vulnerable, resilient and navigating the slammed doors.”
Marasco added, “Primarily, I think students will take away how to walk through a difficult time and how to walk through it with each other.”
For Saturday’s event, students participated in person at the Colangelo College of Business courtyard or via Zoom. Students heard from speakers and panelists from different backgrounds, they learned about different aspects of leadership, and they gained perspective on how to navigate challenging times as a leader. Students also were encouraged to interact with speakers by asking questions and opening discussions.
The event was structured to allow students to interact with hosts and guest speakers. All the speakers Zoomed into the event, allowing students who attended virtually to have as close to the same viewing experience as possible as those who were there in person. Students on Zoom also saw different angles of the in-person portion of the event, thanks to multiple cameras set up to capture the speakers and audience.
Creating this hybrid event, Williams said, was the trickiest part of organizing the conference.
“The challenge is, how do we create this experience that’s great for everyone there in person and also makes everyone who’s joined us via Zoom also feel engaged and able to interact?” he said. “That’s where we have to give a huge shout-out to our Student Advisory Board. They’ve been amazing, they’ve stepped up in their volunteering in the last few weeks to start executing this event.”
Board members worked rigorously behind the scenes to not only ensure the process remained organized but also to ensure student safety.
Although the Honors College had to limit the number of prospective students they would normally invite in previous years, the number of current students who attended surpassed prior years’ totals.
“I think that just goes to show how much students are wanting to have this experience,” Williams said. “It’s certainly well above any numbers we’ve had for this event when you combine the Zoom attendees with our live attendees.”
Part of that influx of attendees, Program Manager Joe Perez believes, had to do with the relevancy of the topics discussed at the conference.
“What’s unique to the Leadership Conference, I think, is just the topics they’ll be exposed too,” he said. “We were very intentional, with respect to ‘OK, we’re all in COVID here and we don’t want this to be morbid, but what lessons have been learned?’ This is a once, hopefully, in a lifetime experience that we’re all going through, so while we’re in the thick of it, let’s talk about the pros and talk about the cons.
“Not only is it a great opportunity to get together in person again, but just the topics … I think it’s really going to resonate with everybody.”
And resonate it did.
Sophomore Anna Shultz attended both days and expressed gratitude in having the opportunity to hear and learn from others’ experiences.
“Honestly, this year has been so tough to navigate, just in every different aspect, so it’s awesome that we get to come to this conference where the topic is specifically leading in change, because that’s just such a relevant topic in today’s world,” she said. “I’m just super excited to just take what they said and apply it to my life in the years going forward.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].