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Leadership Conference to Focus on Citizen-Leaders

As summer turned into fall, staff at the Center for Leadership and Ethics were doing what they do best: Planning the CLE’s annual Leadership and Ethics Conference. This year’s 12th annual event, “Evolving Civic Leadership: Citizenship and Social Responsibility,” will be held Monday, Nov. 1, and Tuesday, Nov. 2, in Marshall Hall.

Getting ready for the leadership conference isn’t as easy as lining up speakers and ordering food. Putting together the conference integrates the skills of all CLE staff members, from theme and topical research to speakers to selection and execution of activities for the audience to reinforce learning objectives.

This leadership conference is designed to engage participants, and speakers are followed by table-group activities.

“Over the course of the two days, no matter what our theme is, our audience goes on a personal development journey,” said Maj. Catherine Roy, CLE communications and marketing specialist.

“I like to call it a learning arc,” added Lt. Col. Kim Connolly, CLE assistant director of programs and conferences. “Each speaker, each activity builds on what came previously.”

Speakers are carefully chosen and just as carefully evaluated. Roy and Connolly watch videos of potential speakers to get a sense of their energy and style, and Col. David Gray, CLE director, talks with them on the phone. It’s a process that can easily take six to eight months.

As they work, CLE staff members keep in mind their goal: To make sure the theme of the leadership conference relates to the CLE’s yearly theme, which this year is citizen-leaders. That goal was chosen to support the “One Corps–One VMI: A Unifying Action Plan” put forth by Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent.

“We tend to, I find, stick around themes regarding American society, citizenship, who we are as Americans, where’s our place in the globe … because it goes back to the VMI mission,” said Roy. “Our mission is to create citizen-leaders.”

Supporting that goal, CLE staff is planning this year’s conference with three modules, each supported by a speaker. The first module will focus on the rights and responsibilities of American citizens, and the speaker will be Amy Chua, a Yale law professor and author of the book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.

The second module, social responsibility, will feature remarks from John Wood Jr., national ambassador for Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to helping Americans overcome political polarization.

With Braver Angels facilitators on-site to guide them, participants in the leadership conference will then debate four controversial topics chosen by participants themselves.

“Each side gets to express their thoughts on an idea and then critique their own position,” explained Roy. “It’s really about listening and understanding what your talking points are.”

“You’re not there to change people’s minds, but to learn to listen, understand, and respect opposing viewpoints,” said Connolly. “It should be very powerful.”

The first day will end with a dinner speaker, Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, whose mission is to build a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship in cities across the country.

On the second day of the conference, William McNulty, a Marine veteran and founder of Team Rubicon, a group that trains veterans to respond to natural disasters, will speak in support of the third module, unity.

His remarks will be followed by a panel discussion featuring alumni who’ve made an impact by initiating collaborative efforts to address diversity, equity, and inclusion at VMI. Moderating the panel will be Lt. Col. Jamica Love, Ed.D., the Institute’s chief diversity officer.

The conference’s final speaker will be Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, the only living Medal of Honor recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A new offering at this year’s conference will be a poster contest with cash prizes, open to all undergraduate students, with judging by a panel of experts and the audience voting for the best final presentations. Winners of the contest will be announced just before Bellavia speaks.

Connolly and Roy urge cadets to sign up for the conference as soon as possible, as it is a valuable networking opportunity, in addition to a chance to learn from leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Permits will be available.

And each year, the feedback from participants is almost uniformly positive. “We get remarks like, ‘This event was fabulous. I didn’t know you guys did this,’” said Roy.

To register for the conference, click here.

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing