Conference teaches students about leadership

 Photos By: Kenny Haeffele
WSU student Jesse Cleveland paints a ropes course for the service project during Project Lead.

The Project Lead conference was held on Thursday and Friday to teach Weber State University students about leadership. Project Lead started being held at WSU three years ago.

The conference has been called the Academy of Leadership for the past two years, but this year the name was changed to Project Lead.

The event started off with a two-hour keynote address by Patrick Grady, author of Who Packs the Parachute? Grady also gave another talk at the beginning of the second day.

During one of his speeches, Grady told the story of his one-year wedding anniversary. He said he wanted to surprise his wife with a sky-diving trip, but he ended up going to a small sky-diving place where they had to pack their own parachutes. He said this experience helped him think about mistakes.

“If you have made a mistake or observed someone else making a mistake, if you learn or help them learn from that mistake, then it becomes a lesson — a lesson you can share with others as a leader,” Grady said.

He also said people just need to open their minds to see things differently.

“Open your mind to opportunity. Your mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open.”

At the conference, attendees were given T-shirts with Abraham Lincoln’s face wearing “hipster-style” glasses on it. They were also given free plastic glasses.

“We kind of wanted to put a retro spin on being a leader,” said Dan Atkinson, a trainer for StrengthsQuest. “That’s why we have the pictures of Abraham Lincoln with the glasses, since the glasses nowadays are getting into this hipster fad.”

Mandie Barnes, leadership vice president in the WSU Student Association and the organizer of the event, said the T-shirts were a way to brand the event. She also said she wore the shirt to the Debate Watch on Tuesday, and someone saw it and decided to come to the event because he wanted one of the shirts.

“We wanted to do something a little bit edgier to get people’s attention, to get students excited to make a name of it around campus,” Barnes said.

There were three breakout sessions during the second day of Project Lead. Some of the speakers were WSU alumni or WSU faculty and staff members. One of the speakers was Tyler Tolson, the CEO of Denik, a company that takes art, puts it on notebooks and gives some of the proceeds to help build schools in other countries.

Tolson gave a talk about personal branding. Personal branding is how people communicate themselves to others. Tolson gave an example by showing everyone how his arm was double-jointed and could look like it was broken. He said he ended up being branded as “the elbow kid” when he was younger because he would prank his teachers by pretending to break his arm.

Tolson also gave advice on how to establish a personal brand.

“You have to recognize your passions and envision who you are and who you want to be,” he said.

He encouraged the audience members to make personal branding statements by writing down their goals and priorities in life.

“It’s inspiring,” said Tolson about the conference. “It helps students, and people in general, really get a perspective on life, and hopefully it motivates them and pushes them to set some goals, to go out and achieve them.”

During a break between the sessions, WSU President Ann Millner did a Q-and-A session.

“Sometimes people think about leadership as ‘something I am going to do later in my life when I graduate in college or see myself in a particular organization,'” Millner said, “but no, the reality is you need to be leaders at Weber State University.”

One person asked her what the most important attribute is that the school president needs. Millner said she it was important that she was able to articulate the mission and vision of the university.

Another student asked Millner where she would like to see the university go in the future. Millner said she hopes that, in 10 years, WSU will be a triple-mission institution, balancing learning, scholarship and community.

“Oftentimes, campuses kind of say, ‘OK, we do teaching and learning here, and then faculty are focused on scholarship and research, and then we talk about service to our university and to our community,’ but where Weber State can really shine . . . is the integration of that.”

Landon Stoker, who attended the event, said he couldn’t pick one thing that he found most important at the conference because it had so many different levels.

“That’s what so great about it,” he said. “The lessons learned will depend on the people.”

After the sessions, the students did a service project, cleaning up a trail by WSU, and also went through the ropes course by University Village.

“I’m hoping that people learn valuable information to make themselves better leaders, better people, more engaged in their community,” Barnes said, “to be more civically engaged and just have a stronger desire to be involved in Weber State as well.”