Da’Vette Peoples

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The Winthrop University Office of Student Activities held its annual leadership conference, which is intended to educate students on leadership skills, provide networking opportunities and create self-awareness.

The LIFT Conference — short for Leadership Institute for First-Timers — is a student led, one-day professional development seminar held every spring semester for undergraduate and graduate students.

The theme of this year’s conference, which was held Feb. 20, was “un-masking your potential” and featured keynote speaker Summer Owens, who is an author, motivational speaker and success coach.

The conference began in 2014 as a way for students to learn leadership skills that can be applied in classes or in a work environment.

However, the way students attended this year’s conference was different, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Usually the LIFT conference is attended by over 200 students but because of the pandemic we have a lot of room capacity limits. One of the things we had to take into consideration was how many students can be in a room at a time,” said Calvin Joyner, assistant director for student organizations and leadership at Winthrop.

Regardless, students say attending the LIFT conference is still memorable.

“I attended my freshman year, and my junior year, I had the opportunity to present for the first time. That was a great thing,” said Tommy Ray Davis II, an educational studies major.

“I did not think I had the moxie to carry it out, because I was so inexperienced. I thought at the time, but it was a really great experience and now I will be presenting for the second time this year, so that is an honor as well,” said Davis.

Joyner said it’s valuable for students to interact with faculty and their peers in a professional setting, outside of the classroom.

“They understand certain lingos, they understand certain terms. It can become, instead of it being lessoned or teacher to student, it can be a peer to peer conversation and the point can get across more conversationally,” said Joyner.

A planning committee does a lot of research when preparing the schedule for the conference.

“We kind of work together to see what topics are hot or what students want to hear. One of the things that we try to do is, we try to survey the students, so we can pick their brains or see what topics they are interested in,” said Joyner.

Some of those topics included at this year’s LIFT conference included career readiness, non-positional leadership and the pursuit of happiness.

“So far, I’ve learned how I can apply leadership to not only the organizations that I’m involved in, but in my personal work as well, so I think that’s my biggest take away this year,” said Daisha Finley, an integrated marketing communication major.

Gabrielle Kelly, a business administration major at Winthrop, said developing leadership skills can help a person discover their identity.

“Who you are is important in being a leader and knowing who you are is important as being a person,” said Kelly. “I think people can take away to just simply know who you are, know who you stand for and be defined by your actions.”

The LIFT planning committee has already started working on the February 2022 conference and is taking applications about potential topics.