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Conference advances student leadership, celebrates 25 years

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 00:01

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From left to right: Seniors Trey Bodwin, Kerry Omughelli, Chelsea Jackson, and student developmental specialist Cord McLean are all officers responsible for putting on the Southwestern Black Leadership Conference.


For some Aggies, leadership is an important characteristic — not only because it is a core value, but because it is a way of life. Leadership conferences are held at many universities every year, but in Aggieland, a particular conference has allowed many African-American students to develop leadership skills through stimulating workshops, career-fair networking opportunities and motivational speakers.

This year, the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference will celebrate 25 years of service as they hold their annual conference, beginning Thursday and continuing through Sunday in the Memorial Student Center. This will be the first time the conference has visited the MSC since the building’s renovations.

“This year is our 25th anniversary,” said Kerry Omughelli, senior electrical engineering major and conference chair. “As we fearlessly approach the future armed with lessons from the past, we want to challenge our participants to use their past experiences as a blueprint for success in an uncertain future.”

The conference was formed as a yearly forum where black students across the country could assemble to engage in personal and professional development while addressing problems and concerns that affected the black community.

More than 1,000 students from across the country will be spending their weekend on the campus of Texas A&M University as they continue to learn, develop and celebrate this year’s theme: “Embrace the Unknown.”Throughout the conference, participants are given the opportunity to continue to develop as leaders, gain business experience and broaden their professional network. During the conference, the majority of the participants will be enjoying the daily itinerary, but a select few will have the opportunity to participate in a valued part of the conference known as the Charles E. Williams Advanced Leadership Institute.

Charles E. Williams was a respected leader on campus, when he attended Texas A&M University in 1996. Two years later, Williams was diagnosed with leukemia and began to learn more of his illness. After his remission, he organized and presented a forum on cancer awareness to the students of Texas A&M University.

Though Williams died in March 2000 after a fatal automobile accident, his legacy lives on through the Charles E. Williams Advanced Leadership Institute — established in his honor shortly after his death. According to the leadership conference’s website, Williams leaves a legacy of determination, conviction and immeasurable faith. Through the Advanced Leadership Institute, his legacy as a leader and servant continues.

“A.L.I. is an institute designed for already seasoned leaders — those who have held or currently hold leadership positions within their respective university and community,” said Geron Fuller, junior sports management major and director of A.L.I. “This is an opportunity to gather all the leaders to continue to develop while also discussing current issues affecting their community.”

For students who did not receive the opportunity to be chosen as a participant of the leadership institute, opportunities to showcase certain merchandise or impress a job recruiter may be possible if he or she is willing to embrace the unknown.

The career fair is a campus-wide event held for the conference participants and the rest of the A&M student body. Students will have the opportunity to visit more than 30 booths from places such as John Marshall Law School, HEB, diverse graduate schools and many more companies.

The vendor fair, on the other hand, allows entrepreneurs to showcase their merchandise while also expanding their brand and providing business opportunities. Each year, a variety of different vendors participate in the fair. Products sold include hair products, clothing, candles, body products, shoes, Greek apparel and much more. The vendor fair will be Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. near the MSC Bethancourt Ballroom.

“The vendor and career fair is important to the conference because it’s a great opportunity to network, and [it] allows students to develop professional skills,” said Kathy Stilwell-Brown, director of auxiliary services and Class of 2012. “When they get out into the real world, they are able to handle themselves and adapt to real world experiences. Ultimately, the fairs are meant to shape the future leaders of tomorrow.”

Participants in the Advanced Leadership Institute will also be invited to attend the leadership conference’s first entertainment night, courtesy of MSC Town Hall. The conference has opened the doors for the entire student body to take part the festivities Thursday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Rudder Auditorium.

For the executive staff, planning began immediately after the 2012 conference. With the 25th anniversary comes a well-known keynote speaker. This year, ESPN personality, journalist and talk show host, Stephen A. Smith, will have the honor of serving as the keynote speaker.

“This year I became interested in bringing Stephen A. Smith because of his success as a black male in the media industry and his message behind what leadership means in every aspect,” said Natalie Dunn, junior international studies major and director of programs.

Twenty-five years isn’t just a celebration or an accomplishment, but it’s the service and leadership development the conference has provided to many underrepresented students throughout the years.

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