LEWISBURG, Pa. – Year No. 5 of the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy got underway on Saturday, as more than 50 student-athletes spanning all 27 of Bucknell’s varsity sports gathered at Academic West for a productive conference conducted by staff members from the leadership development consultants at “The Student-Leader Seminar”.

Dr. Joe Thomas, the founder and CEO of “The Student-Leader Seminar,” returned to Bucknell after conducting a number Leadership Academy sessions in 2014-15. Dr. Thomas currently serves as the Class of ’61 Chair and Distinguished Professor of Leadership Education at the U.S. Naval Academy and as the Academic Director at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Leadership Institute in the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He has also taught at the University of Notre Dame, George Washington University, the National Outdoor Leadership School and is the past director of the John A. Lejeune Leadership Institute at Marine Corps University.

Dr. Thomas was joined by Maj. Ryan Barry USMC, Dr. Christine Copper, Dr. Jessica Mohler, Capt. Michael Donlin USMC, Steve Robbins and Capt. Kenneth Tarr USMC. All of the facilitators have military backgrounds and/or an association with the U.S. Naval Academy.  

The opening Leadership Academy session of the year started with Dr. Thomas posting the Bucknell Athletics logo on a large screen in the front of the room. The student-athletes were simply asked to describe in one word the meaning of the logo. The responses came quickly, and included terms such as excellence, determination, pride, brotherhood/sisterhood and culture.

Building on some seminars from last year, the Leadership Academy spent the next several hours in break-out sessions expanding on the concepts of “alignment”, “vision” and “execution”. The “alignment” concept considers vertical and horizontal relationships, specifically with coaches (vertical) and peers (horizontal).  These commitments call on obligations related to all aspects of student life at Bucknell, and how these affiliations can both strengthen a program and cause conflicts. It discusses how to negotiate conflicts by recognizing the difference between true ethical dilemmas and more simple moral dilemmas in which one is tempted to do what is known to be wrong. “Vision” challenges leaders to have a clear vision of what they desire their team to accomplish both on and off the field of play, and to define the necessary standards that will support this vision. “Execution” provides concrete advice on the actions leaders can take to effectively execute their responsibilities, to include creating a vision, communicating the vision, establishing relationships with key stakeholders, and maintaining accountability.

One of the highlights of the day was an outdoor experiential activity, where the Leadership Academy participants were split into four units and tasked with simulating a military exercise tracking and dismantling an improvised explosive device.  The units had certain rules to which they had to adhere, as well as a handful of rudimentary supplies at their disposal.

The student-athletes came away from the exercise with lessons in planning and execution, teamwork and overcoming setbacks.

“I had the great fortune last year to participate in probably half-a-dozen conversations on a variety of topics, from communications skills to how to have difficult conversations, any number of things related to leadership,” said Dr. Thomas at the end of the day. “In each instance, I learned a great deal from these men and women who are so dedicated and so sharp and so focused on their success. It’s just a real inspiration.”

“We’re very fortunate in Athletics to have a dedicated Leadership Academy for student-athletes,” said Maisha Kelly, senior associate director of athletics and the coordinator of the Leadership Academy, after the 2015 kickoff event. “It is due to benefactors like Bill Dearstyne who have made this an opportunity for not only the 50 student-athletes who participated today, but we see it growing and being able to incorporate more student-athletes over the course of time, as well as having staff members dedicated to this area. Today’s kickoff event was a terrific start to our fifth year in the Leadership Academy.”

The session ended with closing remarks from Kelly and Deputy Director of Athletics Tim Pavlechko.  The pair reinforced the department’s commitment to developing student-athletes to lead and excel in all aspects of their life now and in the future.  Pavlechko highlighted the value that this program brings to the members and the Academy and the department, emphasis that the return on the investment is infinite.

The Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy was launched in August 2011 with the goal of delivering programming and instruction that bridge theory, development and real experiences in an interactive learning environment. Through this endeavor, team leaders can enhance their impact on their teammates’ and their program’s performance immediately and for years to come.

Leadership Academy programming will continue next month, as student-athletes conduct assessments of their personality and leadership styles.