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Shucker Fellows host leadership conference for upstate high schoolers

The Jefferson Awards Foundation is a national organization with a mission to “train and empower youth to be leaders and changemakers.” Furman’s Shucker Leadership Institute (SLI) intends to “prepare students for a lifetime of meaningful leadership and service.”

Those parallel visions found a way to intersect last November when SLI hosted Jefferson’s Students in Action Fall Leadership Conference in a packed Watkins Room at the Trone Student Center.

Nearly 300 high school students from schools in Upstate South Carolina attended workshops designed and presented by Shucker Fellows based on a curriculum Jefferson provided. Sessions focused on leadership and team building, communication, the root causes of poverty, community service, and measuring the impact of service projects, with the goal of making students more efficient and effective in the implementation of volunteer activities at their individual schools.

This marked the second year SLI has hosted the program but the first time it was held on Furman’s campus. After seeing how well the Fellows performed in 2014, it wasn’t difficult for Heather Love, the South Carolina Jefferson Awards Foundation director, to decide to deepen the relationship.

“The Shucker Group, they’re awesome students and they’re so professional and they take this opportunity to volunteer with the high schools very seriously,” she said. “They do a lot of prep work to be fully prepared to lead these workshops. They got rave reviews from the high schools on the evaluation forms.”

Grace Ellen Hannah ’19 applied to be a Shucker Fellow precisely for opportunities like these, and, undaunted by speaking in front of so many people, she led a morning session on leadership and team building

“We talked about different traits that people possess and how to best bring out those traits to make a team work effectively,” Hannah, who came to Furman from Tallahassee, Fla., said. “We talked a lot about leading by example and how … it just takes one person to start a positive action.”

The key component of Students in Action, according to Love, is helping the kids maximize their results.

“The goal is not just for them go volunteer or create new volunteer projects but also to actually strengthen the system of service inside their high school,” she said. “(Many times) everybody is doing something, but nobody is collecting any comprehensive information. No one knows what the combined total impact of that volunteer service is. … So our goal is to use this group of student leaders and develop their leadership capabilities by having them do this for their school.”

Jean Shew of Greenville Technical Charter High School said her kids met a representative of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville at the conference and were inspired to organize a fundraiser that resulted in $5,600 being given to the nonprofit organization, which provides services to sexual assault and child abuse survivors and their families. They also started a program to teach CPR to students.

“The conference gave our club the motivation to work hard all year to promote service,” sophomore Sophie Finnell said.

Love thinks having college students do the talking proved to be an effective way to hold the attention of the audience.

“The high schoolers really get something out of the near-peer relationship with the Shucker students that lead the workshop,” she said. “It’s much more interesting. We intend for the leadership conference not to feel like a school day.”

Helen Fite ’16 interned with Jefferson last year and was Shucker’s director of public relations and special events during the Fall semester. She was impressed with what she saw from the high schoolers at the conference.

“They were really excited, and they come from so many different backgrounds and communities. It was really interesting to see them interact,” Fite, a political science and communications double major from Columbus, Ohio, said. “The kids are really excited about service, and it’s cool to see that in such young people. I wasn’t thinking like that in the ninth grade. I was thinking about sports practice and getting through the day.”

Learn more about the Shucker Leadership Institute.

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