Gettysburg students prepare to be the labor leaders of tomorrow at the Eisenhower Leadership Conference

Actress and SAG-AFTRA National Board member Towanda Underdue and Executive Director Eisenhower Institute Tracie Potts
Actress and SAG-AFTRA National Board member Towanda Underdue (right) was the keynote speaker at the Eisenhower Leadership Conference on Jan. 27.

Empowered by the knowledge and enduring skills gained through participating in campus organizations such as the Eisenhower Institute (EI) and Garthwait Leadership Center (GLC), Gettysburg College students explored the future of labor and the impact they can make as leaders of tomorrow during the Eisenhower Leadership Conference in late January.

Held in the College Union Building (CUB) Ballroom, the full-day conference, entitled “Labor and Leadership: Preparing Gen Z for Transformational Change,” was organized and developed by a group of students under the guidance of EI and GLC administrators with a grant from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Society providing financial support. Discussion topics ranged from the impact of technology in the workplace to creating a positive environment that leads to more work efficiency and organizational success.

“We’d done this conference before, but it was a completely different format,” said Avery O’Neill ’24, a political science and East Asian studies double major who led the student planning group. “This year, it was student-run and everyone had a lot of opportunity to be creative and come up with new ideas for the presentation to students.”

Brandon Fey ’27 and peers
Brandon Fey ’27 (center) was one of several students who presented in front of their peers at the conference.

In the lead up to the conference, Gettysburg students were offered the opportunity to submit ideas to present, lead roundtable discussions, or facilitate a workshop. The format of the event allowed for creativity in presenting topical issues on the future of labor and workplace environments and provided an opportunity for students to utilize their communication skills in front of their peers.

Brandon Fey ’27 was one of the students who answered the call, presenting on the emergence of additive manufacturing and its potential impact on domestic labor and the economy. According to Fey, increased investment in additive manufacturing could create more jobs in the U.S. and lessen the reliance on international production.

“I have found that Gettyburg’s many organizations such as the Eisenhower Institute, Garthwait Leadership Center, and Center for Public Service provide students with many opportunities to engage with important societal topics,” Fey said. “EI and the GLC respected my ability to engage with these topics despite only being a first-year student and trusted me to contribute to this conference.”

Other students also stepped up to present. Janhi Ong ’26 spoke on technology and workplace diversity, while EI Undergraduate Fellows shared how technology can be leveraged into a more equitable economy, with lessons learned from their recent trip to Germany and ongoing research with migrant workers and employers in Adams County. Later in the event, O’Neill and fellow conference organizer Lucy Bourdeau ’24, both GLC Leadership Mentors, led a facilitated dialogue about the various ideas generated during the conference.

“At all the workshops, we asked all the presenters to be interactive and engaged with the audience,” O’Neill noted. “It made you think about what it will be like entering the workforce after graduation. The conference offered an opportunity to reflect on what you might want in a career and helped provide insight into picking a career that's going to still be there in 20 years.”

Students holding open discussions
Students held open discussions focused on topics such as new technology in the workplace and how to create a more efficient and productive team.

Harold G. Evans Chair of Eisenhower Leadership Studies and Management Prof. Patturaja Selvaraj also presented on workplace motivation and how successful managers can create productive teams. Selvaraj, who focuses his academic research on labor relations and workplace dynamics, talked about methods to motivate team members and help them realize their potential.

“It is important to understand the dynamics and impact of labor and leadership in society especially in the workplace,” Selvaraj said. “In the session, we discussed some theories and practical tips to motivate their team members. I believe that those tips will help them enormously when they join the corporate world after graduating from Gettysburg College.”

Capping the day was a key note presentation by award-winning actress Towanda Underdue, a Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) National Board member. As a key figure in last summer’s Hollywood strike, serving as a negotiator in the deliberations between the production studios and the writers and actors seeking changes to the system in place, Underdue reflected on her role and the ability to communicate effectively between the two sides.

Avery O’Neill ’24 interviews Towanda Underdue
Avery O’Neill ’24 interviews Towanda Underdue during the closing session of the Leadership Conference.

“The conference as a whole broadened how I think of labor, especially the conversation with Towanda,” O’Neill said. “We talked about how traditionally when you think of a labor leader, you're thinking of manual labor and someone in the factories; you don't normally think of Hollywood. One of the goals of the conference was to help us broaden how we think of what labor is and how we can protect those different professions.”

The more than 40 students who attended the conference gained valuable insight into how the knowledge and enduring skills they receive through their education and experiences at Gettysburg are helping them prepare to lead consequential lives of their own after graduation.

“Campus organizations like EI and the GLC encourage students to engage with important topics by providing opportunities to learn from experienced professionals in important fields,” Fey said. “They value students’ opinions and invite them to take an active role in the discussion of important topics such as labor and leadership. This level of trust and engagement has been highly successful at promoting student involvement with topical issues facing the nation today, equipping them with the experience to be dynamic citizens upon graduation and entry into the workforce.”

Learn more about Gettysburg’s unique approach to education and how it prepares students for a lifetime of career advancement and personal success.

By Corey Jewart
Photos by Abbey Frisco
Posted: 02/13/24

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