On Feb. 22 to 24, Macalester will host the inaugural “Macalester Connect+ Leadership Conference.” Inspired in part by the United World College’s 50th anniversary, a board of five students and a larger organizing team banded together in March 2012 to start planning a conference of their own. The two-day conference will feature workshops and guest speakers oriented around the theme of leadership.
The conference originally grew out of a conversation about how best to honor the connection between Macalester and the United World Colleges (UWC). Students realized that both Macalester students and UWC alumni shared a common interest in leadership. Ezequiel Jimenez ’13, a conference co-chair, spoke about the central question that started the process: “What does this generation want to achieve?”
The team that laid the groundwork for the conference had no prior experience organizing and running conferences, which made the initial planning challenging. The Macalester administration generously supported the team, who then drafted a proposal to celebrate the anniversary. The conference organizing team also applied for a grant from the Bush Foundation, which agreed to fund for the event.
In order to raise awareness about the conference, the organizing team established a publicity committee to brand the conference. “[The purpose was] to get you wondering what the theme of conference was,” Jimenez said.
In addition, the Macalester team paired up with UWC students from Ringling College of Art and Design, located in Sarasota, Florida, to create a website and design the logo for the conference. The conference was then publicized among the larger UWC alumni network leadership, through networking sites and social media such as Facebook.
Upon hearing about the conference through various networks, interested individuals applied to participate through a formal application process. Jimenez said the conference exceeded the expected number of participants by well over 40 percent, which made the selection process competitive.
The committee received applications from students at colleges such as Brown, Middlebury and St. Olaf, as well as students studying in countries such as Morocco, India, Pakistan and Brazil. Unfortunately, due to a limited budget, the conference was not able to accommodate the international students, and the committee was only able to select domestic students.
Coordinators from the Lilly program worked with the organizing team to design a set of objectives and criteria for selection. The objectives were to target a number of different students to facilitate meaningful conversations as well as to balance the number of UWC alumni and non-UWC students.
The conference is designed to provide an opportunity for participants to have meaningful conversations and develop their leadership skills.
“[The conference is designed to] challenge you to think about leadership, not as a catchphrase, but as action,” Jimenez said. “The conference is to be a platform to connect as friends but also as partners for future projects.”
There will be several workshops taking place throughout the weekend. The workshops are “The Power of Idealism and Personal Example,” “Inclusive Leadership” and “Project Startup.” In each of the workshops the moderators will be delivering messages about entrepreneurship, social change, the power of reflection, as well as practical advice for executing plans and operating NGOs.
There will also be several guest speakers at the conference. Fred Swaniker, a Macalester alumnus and the founder and CEO of African Leadership Academy, is the keynote speaker. He will be speaking at the conference reception, which is open to the public, at the Kagin Commons ballroom starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Steve Boehlke, a leadership consultant and President of SFB Associates, will speak to close out the conference. He will also provide conference participants with a copy of his book on leadership, 50 Lessons on Leading.
Due to a limited budget, conference participants who will be traveling to Macalester are provided with a $400 stipend and transportation from the airport. Participants will be housed in dorms of students who have volunteered to accommodate the extra students.
Jimenez hopes that the conference has a lasting impression on the participants. In a panel titled, “Leadership in Action: DAY #1,” the participants are encouraged to begin making concrete plans for action, which will hopefully push them to take what they have learned further than the three-day conference.
Although Jimenez is unsure about the conference’s future since most of the organizers are seniors, his main focus has been on making this year’s conference a successful one. “If we have some projects that are started, even if you meet people here and start working on projects that will make a great conference,” Jimenez said. “And where was it started? Right here at Mac.”