Harding’s American Studies Institute hosts 63rd National Leadership Forum

Nearly 150 students from five states are on campus this week as part of the National Leadership Forum (NLF), a program that began 63 years ago under the direction of former Harding President George Benson. Today, the event continues through the American Studies Institute (ASI) as a leadership development program that brings students together for a week of labs, lectures and open discussion sessions that strengthen leadership and character.

“NLF participants develop leadership skills by being challenged in the lectures, interacting with team members and being mentored by outstanding counselors,” NLF Director Kim Kirkman said. “Students come away with knowledge and inspiration, charged with action to become an outstanding leader in their own communities.”

The theme for this year’s program is “Imagination Age,” which was selected following Michael Cox’s ASI Distinguished Lecture Series presentation in fall 2018 in which he spoke about his research on the imagination age.

“I hope students will have greater understanding of the imagination age and be inspired to dream dreams and take risks with their dreams,” Kirkman said. “These students will be charged in the last session to do something with all that they have been equipped with during the week.”

NLF partners with the Foundation for Economic Education to facilitate speakers and discussions. During the week, students are challenged to put what they hear from the speakers into action. Students from the program several years ago started a small encouragement project that led to President George W. Bush declaring a National Day of Encouragement.

Kaleb Turner, who graduated from the University May 11 with a bachelor’s in public relations, served as head counselor, managing six counselors who work directly with participants and coordinating team activities throughout the day that allow students to practice what they’re learning through hands-on experiences.

“One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about the program and the speakers so far is that they are challenging the students to take the next step in becoming a better leader but also in living a better story for their lives,” Turner said. “We’ve explored what it looks like for us to step out of our comfort zones and move our stories, our leadership and our communities into a place of progress and ingenuity. I’ve been really impressed with how the students have responded to these charges and how they’ve been working together and discussing how these concepts can make them better friends and community members.

Turner helped welcome the students to NLF when they arrived on Sunday, June 2, and he said he asked the students to do two things during their time on campus: “seek truth and think critically.”

“My hope for these students is that they will leave this week with the confidence, tools and empowerment to seek truth and think critically about important issues in their schools and communities,” he said. “Leaders are in a very opportunistic space to use their platforms to speak truth to power, challenge the status quo and discover what is the next greatest idea that is going to move society forward — in big and small ways. I hope our students leave this week understanding the power they have in seeking truth and thinking critically, and I hope they’ll not be afraid to put that into practice because our communities need them to do that more now than ever.”