Students taking the lead

A look at the work behind the East Coast Student Leadership Conference

- November 22, 2013

East Coast Student Leadership Conference keynote speaker Blake Fly (Chris Parent photo)
East Coast Student Leadership Conference keynote speaker Blake Fly (Chris Parent photo)

Kevin Bradley, one of our Dal News student writers, helped organize the second annual East Coast Student Leadership Conference at Dal. We asked him to write about his experience.

This month, university students from across Atlantic Canada converged on Dalhousie to attend the second annual East Coast Student Leadership Conference (ECSLC). The event, entirely student-organized, brings together student leaders to collaborate, network and be inspired.

With over 170 attendees from across the East Coast and three professional keynote speakers, it’s hard to believe that only a couple years ago the conference was nothing more than an idea. In 2011, a small group of students and staff from Dalhousie’s Career & Leadership Development Centre attended the Canadian Conference on Student Leadership at the University of Calgary. The conference left the group inspired but also disappointed by a lack of opportunity to connect with like-minded students from the East Coast. When they returned to Dalhousie, they held a series of brainstorming sessions until the rough plan of a new conference on student leadership emerged.

This past February, Dalhousie hosted the first East Coast Student Leadership Conference and, though the conference was small in scale compared to its national counterpart, it was largely considered a great success. East Coast students had the chance to come together and share ideas with each other in a conference organized and run almost entirely by students.

Though emboldened by year one’s success, Dalhousie organizers knew that they could make some improvements, and planning for this year’s conference began almost immediately.

This is where I come in.

A hands-on experience

It was in July, just after I had finished a summer course and was beginning to look for a job, when a friend told me about a conference he was working on with some professional staff and students in the Career & Leadership Development Centre (CLDC). I agreed to be co-chair of marketing and communications. I thought it was a good chance to get a little more involved on campus and perhaps get some good leadership experience along the way. At the very least, I thought it might look good on my resume and grad school application. The actual experience turned out to be much more rewarding than that.

I ended up meeting a ton of fantastic people here at Dal and from across Atlantic Canada. And I had the advantage of joining a committee that had already put on the event once before. By being a part of this fantastic team of dedicated students and professional CLDC staff, I learned about how much work goes into putting on these events and had the chance to lead my own team through the months leading up to the conference. I also got to be the Dalhousie Tiger for a night, taking photos with students from across the Maritimes, which was a pretty cool bonus.

Of course, I was able to attend the entire conference as well. I listened to the three keynote speakers — Blake Fly, Jen McMillen and Bill Carr — and I joined about 40 other student delegates to attend a concurrent session by Dalhousie student Ben Reid-Howells. The session involved meditating on the floor of Ondaatje theatre with 40 other ECSLC delegates and discussing mental boundaries. There were 13 other concurrent sessions through out the weekend where students had the opportunity to present to conference attendees.  

Keynote speaker Blake Fly talked about the extraordinary uniqueness of a university campus. He claimed it is the best place to start something new. He also demonstrated the power of a simple "thank you," when he called and thanked an old colleague via phone during his keynote presentation.

Something new this year was that conference attendees were given the chance to explore Halifax with excursions to Peggy’s Cove and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. There were also trips to the Neptune Theatre and a Mooseheads' game.

The weekend finished off with a classy banquet at St. Mary’s Boat Club. Keynote speaker Bill Carr gave the final presentation of the conference on the importance of acting on ideas and living life to its fullest.

Something from nothing

The East Coast Student Leadership Conference started as a humble idea: a small grumble from a handful of Dalhousie students who felt East Coast students lacked a forum where they could come together to network and collaborate together. Its success has now cemented itself as an annual event run by students, for students.

Perhaps what is most exciting to us organizers is that the conference will be travelling somewhere new next year. This year’s committee is in the process of searching for a new host for the 2014 ECSL conference — confirmation to us organizers that the conference has “made it.” So keep an eye on the 2014 East Coast Student Leadership Conference and maybe I’ll see you there.

For more information about the East Coast Student Leadership Conference, check out the website at or like it on Facebook.


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