COOKEVILLE –Nearly 60 high school juniors and seniors from 41 counties across Tennessee converged on Tennessee Tech’s campus recently to participate in the inaugural Tennessee Leadership Summit.
The high school students were chosen by their individual county’s Farm Bureau to participate in the inaugural event that was held at Tech in partnership with the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.
“I was impressed with how motivated and professional these students were even before coming here,” said Dennis Duncan, director of the School of Agriculture. “They were leaders even before they came to this event and my hopes are that it encouraged them to make bigger impacts at home.”
To prepare for this summit, Duncan looked at other institutes held at other universities and formed an advisory committee. Advisory committee members were Phillip Baker of the Putnam County Farm Bureau, School of Agriculture faculty member and Tennessee FFA Foundation Development Coordinator Joenelle Futrell, Tennessee Farm Bureau staff members Kristy Chastain and Melissa Bratton, college of agriculture and human ecology recruiter Samantha Bain and Vice President of Advancement Kevin Braswell.
Agriculture and human ecology students also helped, along with eight full-time counselors and two assistants.
During the summit, students discussed a number of topics and heard from a variety of speakers on leadership, including Congressman John Rose, Tennessee State Rep. Ryan Williams, Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter and Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton.
“They explored the different leadership styles and who they are as a leader,” said Aaron Lay, an agriculture communications major who was also a summit counselor.
Students also had the opportunity to discover their individual strengths and who they are as leaders.
“They learned how we as a group of leaders can accomplish our goals through support and teamwork,” said Hannah Steger, a sophomore who is studying merchandise design and summit counselor. “The students were also taught how to display their leadership skills in the community by taking action through volunteer work.”
A number of popular subjects were also brought up by the students, from the value of teamwork to ways of becoming better leaders.
“We heard from Justin Crowe and listened to his stories and experiences,” said counselor and agricultural education and communications major Katelynn Cammack. “After the groups went to their service projects, I feel like a lot of stuff he said connected.”
Another speaker also resonated with the students.
“We also heard from Matt Niswander who discussed about treating everyone as an ace even though they may be a two,” Cammack said. “His quote of ‘treat the janitor like the CEO’ was also popular with the students and something they said when we reflected every night.”
The counselors said the students were extremely excited and had a great time while on Tech’s campus.
“I heard multiple comments of how this event was one of the best and most fun events they had been to and participants were already asking about opportunities to come back next year if they were eligible,” Lay said.
Groups of eight students each had their own service projects, from working at the Cookeville Rescue Mission, Freedom School, distributing meals at the Methodist Church pantry, cleaning up areas outside of Cookeville Regional Medical Center and on the Tennessee Central Rail Trail from the Farmer’s Market to 12th Street and on campus at the Child Development Center.
“The students kept going and I feel like making sure they also had some fun throughout the week helped overall, so the students were allowed to learn and become better leaders while also enjoying their time away from home,” Cammack said.
Participants also expressed a desire to come back to next year’s summit – and showed interest in enrolling at Tech when the time comes.
“They enjoyed the opportunity to network with other students as well as industry leaders,” said counselor and sophomore agriculture business major Madison Phillips.
Duncan is already hard at work to make next year’s summit bigger and better.
“My goal is to have participants from every county in the state,” he said. “We’re going to expand community service options as well.”
This event strengthened Tech’s relationship with Tennessee Farm Bureau, which sponsored numerous events throughout the week. Other state and global agricultural industries also contributed by sponsoring sessions and events.
“It’s a great recruitment tool, not only for the university but for the college of agriculture and human ecology,” Duncan said.