When it comes time for Penn State students to market themselves and land that all-important first job, demonstrating leadership skills can help put them at the top of the list.
To bring students closer to realizing their leadership potential, the Penn State College of Engineering Leadership Development Program hosted a Leaders of the Future conference, the first of its kind, Sunday at the Nittany Lion Inn. Through a partnership of colleges within the university, about 200 students from a variety of majors attended to interact with industry representatives and share their experiences with leadership in their fields.
“Leadership is so important,” Engineering Leadership Outreach Associate Director Meg Handley said. “Recruiters are looking for leadership when they hire students. So to do something like this helps our students build their brand.”
Engineering Leadership Outreach Director Mike Erdman said the program is the oldest in the country, celebrating 20 years. The conference was inspired by a desire to promote leadership across the campus.
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Twenty years ago, the university hosted a similar leaders of the future event, he said, inviting students from across the country to the campus to discuss leadership skills. For reasons unknown, the meetings simply stopped.
Speaking with colleges in the university with individual leadership programs — such as the Schreyer Honors College, College of Engineering and College of the Liberal Arts — Erdman said it was a good opportunity to revitalize the talks and invite the student community as a whole. Each college would identify a different speaker for the conference, giving them all a slice of the pie.
The conference was broken into four sessions with four speakers each, he said. The sessions covered different aspects of leadership — how you lead yourself, how you lead others, how you lead an organization and how you lead your personal development.
“When you talk to recruiters, two things they look for are how you differentiate yourself from the crowd and how you demonstrate leadership,” he said. “This is the opportunity for (these students) to get the knowledge they can apply.”
Thompson Harner, a Penn State graduate and recruiter for Ernst & Young, of Pittsburgh, spoke on interviewing skills and the different competencies students may be asked about during a job interview.
Harner said it’s not uncommon for students to sell themselves short, thinking a person is only a leader if they are the head of an organization. Sometimes, he said, you’re a leader even if you’re not titled as a leader.
“One of the things I remind students of is you might think that being a shift lead at the dining commons isn’t important,” he said. “But if you’re setting the schedules for your fellow employees, those skills are all transferable when you graduate and are in the workplace.”