Four BJU students along with Alan Benson, vice president for student development and discipleship, attended the annual National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in late February.
NCLS started in 1993, and now over 5,000 people attend yearly. This year’s NCLS theme was Leadership, Teamwork and Organizational Management. Only about 200 college students are invited to the conference each year. BJU has been invited for the past six years.
The two-day symposium is one of the premier national symposia on character and leadership. The U.S. Air Force Academy invites renowned professionals from around the world to speak to the students, cadets and visitors.
Corporate executives, military leaders, famous athletes and leading scholars all share their unique and insightful perspectives on the importance of sound moral character and exceptional leadership. The former director of the CIA and former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, as well as several U.S. generals, a Paralympian and a former NFL player were just a few of the speakers at NCLS this February.
Hope Zakaria, a junior communication disorders major who went to NCLS this February, said she was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend the symposium. “I had wanted to attend this particular leadership conference since freshman year,” she said.
Zakaria said her favorite speakers were Chief Kaleth Wright and Gen. David Goldfein. Wright is the current Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and Goldfein, a four-star general, is the Air Force’s chief of staff.
“Both men [have] years of experience in leadership and character building,” she said. “In their separate sessions, they shared with us the importance of perseverance and integrity when times get tough.”
Zakaria said the most significant part of the symposium for her was that it reminded her how much the men and women in the U.S. military sacrifice for our country. “Being from Washington, D.C., I grew up around military and that particular lifestyle my whole life,” she said. “Something that I had never known before was that every three minutes, a U.S. Air Force plane takes off and lands, delivering personnel or supplies needed all around the world.”
Zakaria shared something Wright said about his job that has stuck with her since the symposium. “He said, ‘America sleeps well because we do not,’” she said.
Cristina Kielmeyer, a senior graphic design major, also attended NCLS and said she felt truly honored to take part in the symposium. “I made so many wonderful memories with the others that went and learned lessons that I believe will stay with me,” she said.
Her favorite speaker was Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. Kielmeyer said Brown spoke about the emotional side of leading and the barriers that stand in the way of courage. “My favorite quote from her was, ‘Daring leaders give voice to hard things,’” Kielmeyer said.
She said her biggest takeaway from the symposium was that leadership starts with her. She said her personal discipline, attitude and how she feeds herself physically and spiritually all influence how good of a leader she is. “When [I have] . . . healthy habits, I can then help and motivate others to work hard as well,” Kielmeyer said.
Chris Brantley, a senior exercise science major, also attended NCLS. He said NCLS was his first choice out of other leadership conferences and that he was thrilled to have an opportunity to grow and to learn how to become a better leader. “Growing up, I didn’t have many opportunities like this, so I am extremely grateful I got to be a part of it,” he said. “I thought all of the speakers brought something unique to the conference.”
Brantley said he learned how attitude and low expectations can affect leadership.
“I feel like many times I as a leader set low expectations because I don’t want to be disappointed in someone or some event I am planning,” he said. “That mentality is not helping the people or organization I am leading; it actually hinders the possible growth that could happen. I feel like I learned a ton, and I am still taking time to reflect and absorb all of the information I got. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant.”
Karl Walker, a senior Bible major, also attended NCLS.
Matthew Weathers, the Center for Leadership Development’s student leadership coordinator, said, “We try to instill a sense of responsibility and leadership development within the students through various opportunities.”
He said those opportunities are available both on and off campus.
The NCLS is the third of five different leadership conferences that the CLD sent students to this semester. In addition to the NCLS, students attend conferences at the United States Naval Academy, The Citadel, the University of South Carolina and the College of the Ozarks. All the conferences take place in the spring semester.
Jon Daulton, the dean of men, took four BJU students to the United States Naval Academy. Dr. Pearson Johnson, director of the Student Care Office and counselor, traveled with 20 students to the University of South Carolina for the all-day leadership and diversity forum.
In March, Rachel Dahlhausen, the CLD’s women counselor, will take three students to The Citadel leadership conference. Finally, Weathers will travel with four students to the College of the Ozarks.
Weathers said this is the first year that BJU has been invited to the College of the Ozarks conference. “We are very excited for the opportunity to go,” Weathers said. “[All of these conferences] give our students an opportunity to interact with delegates from other academic institutions, opportunities for them to develop relationships with other student leaders and opportunities for them share the Gospel and shine the light of God’s love to other delegates from around the country.”
Weathers said any student can apply for next year. The CLD will send an email with application details. The application asks questions about leadership. Student’s answers are evaluated before the CLD chooses which students will have the opportunity to attend.