The benefits of participating in the University Honors Program include some things that may be considered more abstract such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://tx.ag/HonorsBenefits).
Other benefits are more concrete, such as our partnership with other programs on campus that provide special access to campus conferences that assist our students in their personal, professional, and intellectual development. In the post below, seven University Honors Students—Brady Allen, Charlee Cockrell, Kalista Jordan-DeBruin, John Jung, Alysabeth Lipman, Kimberly Morrison, and Wesley Till—from various disciplines describe their experience at the MSC Spencer Leadership Conference, a special opportunity for sophomore students to develop leadership skills through the exploration of innovative leadership, selfless service, and self-authorship.
Aerospace engineering major, Brady Allen ‘21
Composed of two fall semester events and a three and a half day conference held in Dallas each spring, the MSC Spencer Leadership Conference is designed to develop the values of innovative leadership, self authorship, and selfless service in a group of about 50 sophomores. In the fall semester, we heard from speakers from the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bush School of Government on the subjects of self authorship and selfless service. These speakers introduced me to the ideas of intentional reflection and allowed me to identify the values that I seek within myself and others as a leader.
At the conference kickoff on February 6th, presidential professor Rodney Hill, from the School of Architecture, talked to us about the future of technology and the growing blur between human and virtual interactions in the global workplace. The following morning, we boarded a bus to Dallas, Texas on our way to our first site visit. The first day, we heard from representatives and learned about the company culture of Southwest Airlines, as well as the future of the field of medicine at UT Southwestern. The speakers at both sites had valuable wisdom to share on the subject of leadership in the workplace, evident in many more ways than the traditional idea of “leading a team.”
On Friday, we traveled to Alvarez and Marsal in Dallas, to hear from two more inspirational speakers, followed by a presentation by the company’s consulting team on the variety of roles available within their field. After 3 hours of informative discussion, we traveled to Paul Quinn College to learn about leadership and selfless service from the leaders on that campus, as well as from the founder of Big Event at Texas A&M. Their presentations were extremely passionate and I believe that I gained a broader perspective of the difference I can make in the world as a leader.
Saturday’s trip home was preceded by a service event in association with Rainbow Days and The Texas Rangers Foundation. We spent the morning working with disadvantaged youth, taking tours of Texas Rangers Stadium and playing in the kid zone with them. By listening to their stories, and sharing our experiences, we hope to have made an impact on them, and given them hope and the realization that they can do anything. I think that I also gained something from this experience as I am more thankful for the blessings I have been given, and I feel a new drive to be the best that I can be.
Business Honors major Charlee Cockrell ‘21
The MSC Spencer Leadership Conference was one of the most unique experiences I have had to learn more about leadership, personal development, and others at Texas A&M. I really appreciated being able to learn about diverse career paths from speakers who came from a variety of backgrounds. This offered a chance to listen to different perspectives and ideas, and hear more about industries I had not been exposed to in the past. Another opportunity that the Spencer Leadership Conference provides is being able to meet other delegates with different majors and interests. This was a unique opportunity to get to know other parts of campus, as well as meeting other University Honors students who shared different viewpoints and takeaways from the speakers. One of the most rewarding experiences, however, was the service event with Rainbow Days, which allowed us to connect with the Dallas-Fort Worth community through bonding and uplifting children in the program. The incredible opportunities of the conference provided many valuable lessons on innovative leadership, self-authorship, and selfless service that I will continue to reflect on in the future.
International studies major, Kalista Jordan-DeBruin ‘21
Through Spencer, I had the opportunity to listen and speak with a variety of individuals and leaders from various fields. What really struck me is that each one of these leaders was successful, but they were successful in different ways, and each one of them defined leadership in a different way. Only I can define what success is for myself. I am the person that I choose to be, and I can be myself and successful and a leader, even if this isn’t the person someone else is. I also think it’s important to remember that “leadership comes before authority.” Leadership isn’t telling people what to do. Leadership, to me, is helping other people be successful. Finally, it’s important to use the phrase “get to” and not “have to.” This is something that I’ve told myself for years, but hearing it reaffirmed by someone I admire was, for lack of a better term, really cool.
Biochemistry and genetics double-major, John Jung ‘21
Life is like sailing through the sea. Unpredictable weather, loss of direction, and maintaining the crew all relate to how we sail through the sea of life. Although there are thousands of ways the ship may sink, there is one way it may be saved; leadership. With a leader who can pinpoint each crew members strengths, bridge different members for exponential effect, and become selfless himself, the ship is bound to reach the destination.
The MSC Spencer leadership conference gave me a better outlook into how I should present myself as a leader in what direction. One thing I learned is to have a “get to” attitude towards everything we do. As college students, we are stressed with loads of homework and studying we “have to” do. However, when we think that we have this opportunity while others may not and have the “get to” attitude, everything we get to do, we are thankful for and are motivated to do. As a leader, there are moments where certain assignment feels like work. The lesson of the “get to” attitude directed me like a compass to sail with this concept in mind for the future.
In general, getting to meet current leaders of today was an experience that one would beg to get. Getting to not only learn from them but also talking to them opened me to great examples of how I should one day be sitting in their shoes and teaching young people what a leader is. Moreover, I got a clearer idea on how I want to motivate others to bring about change in the world as a leader and leave a trail.
As an advice for future students, I would definitely recommend this trip because both the trip itself and pre-conference opportunities widen the view of how I want to live the future with different views of the world. Getting to listen to talks of leaders today would instantly motivate you. Be mindful of taking notes and getting contact information if you think they were motivating you..
International studies major, Alysabeth Lipman ‘21
February of this year, I attended MSC Spencer Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas. This conference specifically focuses on self-authorship, innovative leadership, and selfless service through bringing enriching and engaging speakers to sophomores both at the Conference in Dallas for three high impact days, but also in pre-conference events at A&M. My experience with Spencer has changed the way I view daily tasks, schoolwork, leadership, and myself.
The focus on self-authorship has been particularly impactful to me this year. Self-authorship, to me, is the making of meaningful decisions that fall in line with personal values, beliefs, and loyalties. It is the narrowing of my focus to only the things I truly value so I don’t feel so anxious or overwhelmed trying to appease everyone around me. The basic idea behind this is that when we are focusing on the things that fulfill us we won’t become burnt out, lost, or listless. There was a visual example used at one of the pre-conference events of a jar filled in two different ways: the first beginning with large rocks getting increasingly smaller and the second with sand and gravel then the larger rocks. The first way is the ideal way to live; the large rocks are major values and beliefs that are personally important and everything else are smaller actions or results that come from the larger rocks. The second way is the ineffective way to follow values and beliefs, and as I’ve personally found out, leads to major burnout because the grounding rituals, values, and beliefs are overwhelmed by the less important things. However, this is far from the most important or meaningful experience from Spencer.
The speeches that stuck with me all happened on the second day beginning with a morning speaker who spoke about “get to” versus “have to” attitudes. He pointed out the window and said, “Do you know how many of those people out there would love to come inside and get the opportunity to take a test that you dread?” It was blisteringly cold and we had walked to the building that morning, so the words had more of an impact, but his whole guiding topic was that so often we say we have to do things when in reality we get to do them. Everything we get to do is a privilege that someone else is missing out on, and this wasn’t meant to make us feel bad but rather to change the way we view our responsibilities and make us grateful for the experiences we get to have.
The last speaker of the day also had a similar impact on me, but in a very different way. Dr. Doughty is the Dean at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, a historically African-American college that has struggled greatly as of late with finances and serving its students. The speech was drastically different than any of the others that we had the opportunity to hear from the way it was structured to what it was about. Dr. Doughty emphasized the importance of serving the underserved in our communities rather than just getting a high paying managerial job or a leadership position in a large company. He said, “Do you want to be a leader or do you want to be really good middle management?” This is something that sticks with me, and has helped me to decide what I want to do after my time here at A&M. I’ve always had a soft spot for the misunderstood, the underserved, and that think they have no other options. Dr. Doughty reaffirmed my desire to work for Teach for America and go onto make a difference in the lives of needy children somewhere in the United States.
I made so many meaningful connections within my class year that I wouldn’t have been able to without the bonding experience of Spencer. I had the flu before I went on Spencer, so I missed an entire week of classes and I was incredibly tired at the end of each day, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it. I’ve become closer with some of the directors and gained a support network I didn’t have before. I have a better outlook on my responsibilities and how to manage my time. Overall, I can’t say enough good things about my experience with MSC Spencer and I only hope that I can be a director in the future to help create the same kind of welcoming and challenging environment I got to experience.
Biology major, Kimberly Morrison ‘21
In early February, I was privileged to take a break from my studies and spend 3 days in Dallas as a delegate for the Spencer Leadership Conference. During my time in Dallas, the other other delegates and I visited and toured various companies, including Southwest Airlines, UT Southwestern, and Alvarez and Marsal. We heard from numerous speakers about the importance of a servant-hearted mindset when leading diverse groups. Additionally, we took part in a service project through RainbowDays, an organization that helps at-risk and underprivileged kids rise above their situation and towards a better life. We spent a day with the kids at Globe Life Stadium, playing with them and providing companionship.
The most memorable stop during our conference was visiting Paul Quinn College, the first urban work college, located in south Dallas. While there, we toured the We over Me Farm, an old football field that was converted to an urban farm to provide fresh food to students. Paul Quinn is located in the middle of a food desert, and after unsuccessful attempts to remedy this problem, college leaders took matters into their own hands to ensure that students were getting the nutrition they needed to succeed.
Often in college, we become so wrapped up in the success of our academic career that we forget to focus on and develop the soft skills the professional world will inevitably demand. MSC Spencer Leadership Conference allowed me to be surrounded by mentors from all backgrounds to learn from their expertise and experience on how to approach the world after college as a budding leader.
Computer engineering major, Wesley Till ‘21
On February 7, I left with a group of about 50 other sophomores for Dallas, Texas for the MSC Spencer Leadership Conference. We had prepared for the conference by listening to various speakers on a monthly basis to get a grasp on Spencer’s Three Pillars: innovative leadership, selfless service, and self-authorship. While in Dallas, we spent three days listening to how the Three Pillars translate to the real world and how to use them to be successful and serve your community.
If there is one thing I have learned in my time here at Texas A&M, it is that you should never turn down an opportunity for improvement. I had heard a lot of things about MSC Spencer and how great it was, but at the same time I did not feel like there was something to be gained from the conference that I could not get from one of my current organizations. Regardless, I saw no harm in applying and seeing where it took me.
After being accepted, I attended the pre-conference events and learned so much from our variety of speakers relating to leadership in our everyday lives and in our careers. When we left for Dallas, I knew that I had an exciting trip ahead of me. I did not know what exactly to expect, but I trusted that it would have a positive impact on my future. We listened to more speakers in Dallas, but also got to see tangible example of the Three Pillars while there and that is what truly made an impact. Southwest Airlines showed us the importance of self-authorship through their workplace which encourages their workers to find their values and see their place within the company. Paul Quinn College demonstrated innovative leadership through the steps they took to save their college and help accommodate the students who were struggling. The Heath family showed us selfless service by opening their home to us despite us being strangers to them.
The Spencer Leadership Conference truly left an impact on me. I may have learned about how to be a better leader, but I value the conference because I learned so much about myself. I felt moved to action by our speakers and the experiences I had on conference to be a true leader for whichever community I might find myself in. I am grateful for the MSC for putting on this conference and LAUNCH for sponsoring me to attend the conference. This trip would not have been possible without either of these organizations. Finally, I would like to Bruce Spencer class of 1937 for initiating the conference and leaving a legacy that is impacting students even after his passing.
Opportunities such as these are advertised to University Honors Program students in good standing. If you’re interested in participating, be sure to check your email!