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Conference helps students sow seeds of leadership

Students work together to complete an obstacle course at the University of North Georgia's Pine Valley complex during the Leaving a Legacy of Leadership (L3) conference. The conference brings student leaders from across the state who seek to polish their leadership skills.

College students from across the state converged at the University of North Georgia (UNG) recently for Leaving a Legacy of Leadership (L3), a weeklong conference aimed at helping students build leadership skills and encourage high standards for leadership on their campuses.

Ishmael Rogers, president of the Student Government Association at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, is one of more than 70 students who participated in the summit and said he learned skills he plans to carry back to his leadership team.

"Communicating and learning who you're working with are definitely things I'm going to implement on my campus," Rogers said. "Personally, I really got two major things out of the conference – developing my mission statement and vision and stepping out of my comfort zone."

The idea for the summit — with its motto "Leadership to the third power!" — was developed at UNG, but educators from across the University System of Georgia (USG) helped develop the specialized curriculum. The conference, staffed by educators and student mentors from different USG colleges and universities, is held on UNG's Dahlonega Campus each summer.

The L3 Summit engages student leaders through practical leadership training that helps them to become strong contributors on their campuses, said Jemima Fortune, UNG's coordinator for student leadership and commuters, who heads the L3 conference.

"We want our participants to understand why their legacy matters and to feel empowered to be influential catalysts for positive change at their home institution," Fortune said. "At UNG, we understand the value of developing leaders who will serve and impact our society in a great way – it's our mission."  

The conference is now in its fourth year at UNG. Designated by the University System of Georgia as a state leadership institution, UNG educates leaders through a variety of academic and co-curricular programs, from conferences like L3 to courses in leadership for enrolled students.

In addition to seeing presentations about the various aspects of leadership, students participated in team-building activities. After each challenge, students discussed what happened and what they could have done better. Students also spent a day at UNG's Pine Valley facility, where they worked in groups to maneuver through challenges on the leadership reaction course and participated in a homemade boat regatta. For the regatta, small groups of three to four students had limited time — and limited resources like cardboard, plastic wrap, string and duct tape — to build a boat and sail it down the nearby Etowah River.

Jordan Harris, a student at UNG's Oconee Campus, is involved in a multitude of committees, clubs and student government. He hopes to bring students together on his campus through methods learned at the L3 conference, and signed up to be considered as a peer leader for L3 next summer.

"Our campus is a two-year campus, so it's got a really high turnover rate and people who transfer out, but while students are there, I want to enrich everyone's experience – freshmen, transfers, and returning students," Harris said. "I learned how people received things differently, like criticism. Everyone in my group was different, and I learned so much about how to bring everyone together through their differences."

For these emerging leaders, the real work begins when they return to their home campuses. All are given a year to complete the three goals they identified during the weeklong conference. Robert Bryant, coordinator of multicultural student affairs at UNG, led the goal-writing sessions.

"All of them developed a vision, a real mission, and three goals, so now they have a realistic plan that they can take back to implement on their campus," Bryant said. "The idea is that students come in as an open vessel, but leave with this knowledge that they're making a difference for their communities and also for themselves. We also try to instill in them that leadership is about more than just authority, it is about service and inspiration."

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