Students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott College, and Yavapai College assembled at 8:30 a.m. on the Saturday morning of March 2. Most students were groggy compared to the upbeat facilitators of the second Tri-College Student Leadership Conference. Within the hour, Everyone was soon smiling and laughing as breakfast and humor kicked-off the conference.

“You have life-changing ability inside of you,” stated Mark Hartley, the keynote speaker,“You have greatness inside of you.” Except, leaders are not great at everything. The goal, Hartley explained, “is to find partners who have strengths where we have weaknesses.” Leaders must be involved with people. The effectiveness of a leader shines through that person’s followers.

Hartley used the sun as an example of adversity. He asked the audience if they would crack like clay, melt like wax, or grow like plants from the sun’s challenge. However, leaders do not need to shoulder the burden alone. “Talk to people,” Hartley said, “who have been where you are trying to go.” The key to overcoming adversity is attitude. Adversity will help or hinder a leader based on how the person approaches issues.

“I either win or I get better,” Hartley repeated,  “Losing isn’t even an option.”  Leaders can either learn from their mistakes, or become so disheartened they refuse to try again. In cases like this, Hartley said a leader did not need to be the expert.  The leader just needed to find the expert who would help.

He was a heavy advocate of hope in times of trouble.  “If there’s a way in, then there’s a way out, so take action.” Hartley suggested reflecting and writing down goals and actions to achieve the desired result.  It is a way to clear and organize thoughts to better identify key steps.

Hartley believed heavily in the power of student leadership, especially in college.  He shared what a motivational speaker once told him that changed his life. “What you do in college is you’re setting the banquet table for the feast or famine you’re going to eat off of for the rest of your life.”  It turned his attitude towards life around and he shared it to potentially change the life of his audience.

The idea of service was a constant theme in the tri-college student leadership conference. The keynote speaker, the college presidents, and the breakout sessions all had one or two messages of leaders who serve others. It is a form of paying forward the gifts leaders have received through mentorship, knowledge, or experience.

The conference had three breakout sessions with five options for each. They were 45 minutes long. Leaders from across the three colleges presented for the students. It was a blend of staff, faculty, and even Americorps demonstrating faith in student leaders. They provided a tremendous opportunity for students to further their leadership skills and goals.

The topics ranged from non-profit leadership and fundraising to communication. Teri Poucher, the Coordinator of Student Activities at ERAU, hosted a forum on marketing an event. Professor Laura Campagna from Prescott College held a workshop on social justice organization and activism. Professor Todd Conway from Yavapai College talked about the best ways to use technology for advertising in the competitive market.

The sessions fell into three basic categories that tied in with the “Make Your Mark” theme. The programs focused on communication, instituting change, and learning more about internal factors of leaders. Through it all, the tri-college conference motto of “Leaders Today, Leaders Tomorrow” was reinforced through students sharing projects, goals, and contact information.

Students from different colleges needed little prompting to begin collaboration. People talked about their current clubs and projects. Phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged to further connections between the colleges.The bottom-up approach beginning with students and their projects is an effective way to foster camaraderie between the colleges.

However, it could not have been done without the full support of the student life coordinators and top administrators of each college. Students were able to ask the presidents questions at the conclusion of the conference. The presidential panel began by each president answering the two questions of the conference’s theme: how you you make your mark and how do you make a positive impact?

Yavapai College President Dr. Penny Willis answered that leaders needed to be comfortable with themselves. “Know your strengths and weaknesses…work on getting people together,” she said.

Prescott College President Dr. Kristin Woolever answered the leaders needed to change their methods based on the desired impact.  “You have to know who you are.”  Once a leader is comfortable with the inner self, then it is easier to face the world.

Dr. Woolever gave the example of Prescott College deciding to oppose the legislation 1070 as a college. It was the only academic institution to do so to publicly oppose it in the state of Arizona.  They did it because they believed it was the right thing to do. The courage of conviction must be the foundation of a leader’s character.

Still, she said, it was no excuse for refusing to listen to other people. Leaders must listen to other people. “Listen and know where people are coming from,” she said. She offered four steps to follow: know yourself, stand on beliefs, listen, and take action.

ERAU President Chancellor Dr. Frank Ayers said “making a difference is about small and large things.”  The legacy of someone, he continued, is not about the person or an individual’s comfort and needs.  He mentioned Kim Blanchard’s ideas on servant leadership.  “It’s not about you or titles.” Dr. Ayers explained.  It’s about the positive impact a leader’s presence and actions have for the future.

Dr. Ayers advocated organizing for success and instituting model-supported behavior.  Projects and campaigns have a much better chance for success if it’s in a model that supports it.  “Try to get people smarter than you,” he said.  “If you’re the smartest person in the room, that is not a good place to be.”  Dr. Ayers shared his management method of “managing by walking around.” A leader must be approachable and open to new ideas in order to be effective.

The Tri-College Student Leadership Conference is an amazing resource tool for students.  The overwhelming support and energy from the staff, faculty, and administrators of the three colleges give students great opportunities to grow as leaders.  The conference is on rotation, which means it will take place next at Yavapai College on Oct. 19, 2013.

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