Conference gives Honors students leadership lesson

March 29, 2022 / by / 0 Comment
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By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

It doesn’t take an extravagant or climactic story to make a difference.

This year’s Next Generation Leadership Conference was planned and organized by students for students.

In fact, sometimes it’s the unique intricacies, no matter how trivial they may seem, of each person’s story that can make a lasting impact on others.

There’s no story not worth sharing.

Anyone can make a difference.

And that’s exactly what was celebrated at this year’s Next Generation Leadership Conference, hosted by Grand Canyon University’s Honors College.

With the theme “Serve with Your Story,” students spent last weekend hearing from a series of panelists and keynote speakers, all from different fields, about the importance of using the gifts and lessons God gave them for a greater purpose.

For the first time, the event was organized by students for students. Through their participation in the Honors College’s new College to Corporate Leadership Academy, students were tasked with planning the event and choosing the speakers.

“Our administrative support has been available to help with the fine details and to help coach and mentor students as they go through the process and then just to execute on some of those tasks that only employees can execute upon. However, for the most part, we really tried to push as much of the responsibility to these students,” Honors College Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli said. “We want them to be able to take ownership of the work that they put in and the ultimate result.”

Ryan Corry was the keynote speaker Friday evening.

The result was an inspirational event that set a high bar for future iterations of the conference.

It’s a sight that resonates with the Honors College staff.

“We’re really seeing these students just take ownership of what it means to be leaders within the Honors College,” said Dennis Williams, the college’s Director of Operations. “I always laugh and say I have this moment of feeling like a proud papa to be able to stand back and see these students run with this.”

The keynote speakers came from a wide range of backgrounds and journeys that all placed an emphasis on what they consider the key to true success – serving others. One of them was Ryan Corry, Chief Strategy Officer for St. Vincent de Paul.

“I really do feel like GCU attracts talented and mission-oriented students,” he said. “Some people are looking for a job; I really think that GCU students are looking for vocation, mission and purpose. It’s really exciting to be a part of a group that can support students and be a resource for students.

“Whatever mission it is that we’re on, I know there’s heart alignment.”

The College to Corporate Leadership Academy, an extension of the Honors College PAC program, is geared toward PAC graduates who want to fine-tune their leadership skills during the later years of their undergraduate program.

Travis Hardin (far right) leads prayer at the beginning of the Saturday event.

Although a large part of the program revolves around organizing that year’s Next Generation Leadership Conference, students also partook in mentoring and reading opportunities in addition to networking with Honors College Advisory Board members.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that attracted senior Lena-May Haught, President of the Honors V.O.I.C.E.S. Club.

Haught spearheaded the planning for the conference.

“This particular opportunity that I have received through the College to Corporate Leadership Academy is something that is more real world than anything else I’ve done,” she said. “We weren’t given a set of check boxes to accomplish. We were told, ‘This is the event. You decide how it looks, you decide how you accomplish it, you decide how you organize yourselves.’ And that was such a learning process for me, but it was a learning process in the best way.”

One of the biggest blessings of the process, junior Madeline Landes said, was collaborating to decide on a theme.

“The theme of the whole weekend is telling your story in order to connect with other people, and even though we’re planning it and executing it, we’re getting to do that networking, too,” Landes said. “We’re getting to connect with the breakout speakers and the keynote speakers, and making those connections has been a huge blessing.”

Hardin was one of several keynote speakers Saturday.

It’s the kind of experience that Emma Blair is eager to have even though she graduated in December. 

“I’m thankful the Honors College let me stick around,” she said with a smile. “I’m thankful because I’ve learned a lot.”

It also was the first year the event was made available to people outside the Honors College — other GCU students as well as high school students who want to learn more about the Honors College.

Blair’s younger sister, Jordan, was one of those high school students. She traveled from Flagstaff to get a head start on acquainting herself with her future college campus and its events.

“I’m really excited to just get a taste for what GCU does, especially through the Honors College,” she said. “It’s really comforting because now I have a little bit of familiarity with the campus. I’ve been here a couple of times before, but to attend an event that kind of mirrors what GCU does really brings a sense of I’m not just going to be hit with everything being new in the beginning and I’ll be more integrated into the culture.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].

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