Cultivating student passion at the East Coast Student Leadership Conference

Conference makes strong debut at Dal

- February 22, 2013

One of the idea walls during the East Coast Student Leadership Conference. (Alexandra Seglins photo)
One of the idea walls during the East Coast Student Leadership Conference. (Alexandra Seglins photo)

Over the past year, 20 student volunteers met bi-weekly with a number of Dal staff from the Career & Leadership Development Centre and Student Services, organizing an event they hoped would inspire and motivate university students in Atlantic Canada.

Their plans came to fruition over the weekend of February 15-17 when Dalhousie played host to over 150 students and professionals for the first (and hopefully annual) East Coast Student Leadership Conference (ECSLC).

“The last year we’ve been working non-stop,” says conference co-chair and Neuroscience student Chris Parent.

The event was originally inspired by a group of students, including Parent, who attended the Canadian Conference on Student Leadership in November 2011 at the University of Calgary. Realizing that Atlantic Canada was underrepresented, the group decided to develop its own event here at Dal.

“We first identified what the students wanted and went from there,” says Parent. “And the speakers we came across were just a perfect fit. We wanted to cover all different grounds. We realized there were people coming with an interest in sustainability and so Chris de Waal was a great fit for that. We also realized that there were entrepreneurs, so Barbara Stegemann caters to that, as well as Hezekiah Griggs.”

Insistency through adversity

In the Rowe Building, student opinions flanked the walls. On a display board asking for some of the challenges facing student leaders, responses ranged from “lack of funds” or “age,” to “lack of internal and external support” to “systematic oppression,” and even “remaining self-cynical.” On another board, students identified guest speakers, mentors, and media campaigns as some of the top ways to encourage student leadership on campus.

Small-scale farmer, butchery entrepreneur, and champion of the local food movement Chris de Waal (who was up at 5:30 a.m. to cut meat before his talk three hours later) was a particular hit with the predominately student audience, many of whom, perhaps ironically, were vegetarians.

“Don’t think that passion is feeling good all the time about it,” he said. “Passion is insistency through adversity. It’s letting that passion wake you up at one in the morning on a Saturday and forcing you to go when you don’t want to. You have to work on cultivating your passion.”

There was plenty of passion at the conference, but it also offered a unique opportunity for students to meet and share ideas. Entrepreneur Barbara Stegemann pointed out that’s the power of networking. “If you’re present, all the resources you need are right in front of you,” she said.

Leadership for the future

Chris Parent hopes the event will continue in the future, particularly since in recent years the Canadian Conference on Student Leadership has been out financially out of reach for Dalhousie students. (Last year it was held at the University of Calgary; this year it’s at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.)

Dal students who applied for a bursary from Student Services to attend the ECSLC received a large discount on registration. They paid $30 for early-bird tickets, rather than $105, and $50 for the $125 regular-priced tickets.

Student delegates from outside Halifax (some came from as far away as Guelph and Trent universities) were sponsored by local businesses, including Barbara Stegemann’s husband.

With support from the university, the local business community and all the volunteers, there’s no reason to believe the conference won’t happen again next year. “I’m loving it, but it’s not about me, it’s about the students,” says Parent. “And I’m so proud of the volunteers who’ve just been going non-stop.”

Reflecting on his mistakes and newfound motivation, Chris de Waal left the audience with humble words on Sunday morning.

“Remember, leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you live for. The ideas you’re willing to die for, to fight for, to sacrifice for. Your ideas are not going to be the same as everyone else’s, but when you hit on that, when that becomes a driving force behind what you’re doing, it will be much easier to live for people.”


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