Igniting Student Leadership

by Johnathon Goodenow

Leading can be a daunting task. People often feel like they can’t handle the pressure involved in taking charge of a group, but one day they find themselves in a position in which they need to take on that role. People look up to those with skills and experience, and it is possible that any person might end up becoming the one who has to step up to get a job done. Leadership skills and experience are the qualities that students attempt to acquire by going to college, so it follows that they should also learn to be leaders. Luckily, Greenville College has an event each year to help students learn exactly that.

Each year, the Greenville College Student Association holds the Spark Leadership Conference to help students develop the skills necessary for not only running effective organizations on campus, but also for life after college. This year, the theme of the conference was “leadership in the workplace.” Emily Gaffner, sophomore and vice-president of clubs and organizations, organized the event. She asked both the mayor of Greenville and faculty from different departments to speak about how leadership should be carried out in each of their disciplines. Each speaker also told personal stories about leaders they knew or times when they had to display leadership qualities to carry out tasks.

The speakers covered a wide number of disciplines. Suzanne Davis, dean of the Briner School of Business, spoke on behalf of the business department; Mayor Alan Gaffner spoke about leadership in public and community service; Coach Roy Mulholland focused on athletics; Coach Ivan Estevez talked about being an educator. After breaking for dinner, Jennifer Dunkley talked about leadership in ministry; Dr. Phil Siefken told stories about his experiences with leadership in the medical field; and Dr. Paul Sunderland finished the conference with a talk on leadership in music and worship.

When asked how she selected the speakers for the event, Emily Gaffner said, “I looked at the different departments and tried to be as inclusive of the student body as I could. I knew that no matter what topics I picked, I wouldn’t be including everyone, so I tried to pick careers that would be relatable to students who weren’t going into that specific job. I also asked speakers to give their own personal experiences, so students from other disciplines could benefit from that as well.”

There was a lot of thematic overlap between the presentations. The main idea of nearly all of the sessions was the concept of Christian servant leadership. Leaders should not think strictly in terms of completing tasks, but instead think about how they can best serve those around them. For example, Dr. Sunderland said that as he worked as a worship leader, the musicians he worked with would often look up to him as a mentor for spiritual guidance. There were differences between the speakers’ thoughts on how far servant leadership should go, however. Jennifer Dunkley said that leaders should be prepared to have most, or even all, of their time devoted to serving others. Dr. Siefken, on the other hand, argued that leaders should schedule their time to keep from neglecting other priorities such as family.

In an interview following the conference, Emily Gaffner said, “It is possible that the best way to become better leaders is to just be as open-minded as we can. We can still have our beliefs and our convictions, but we should also be aware that everyone’s experiences are different than our own. We can always be in pursuit of more knowledge. By asking questions or attending conferences like this, we can become more well-rounded and better display the qualities of servant leadership.”

If you would like to watch recordings of any of the conference talks, you can look them up on the Greenville Papyrus Facebook page.

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