PSU hosts Challenge: Academy of Leadership Innovations to provide new opportunities for youth

What does it take to truly make a difference in the life of a student? Educators, parents, business leaders, and policymakers spend a lot of time and energy working on this topic, but local nonprofit, Reaching and Empowering All People Inc. (REAP), is doing something about it. In August, REAP will convene Challenge: Academy of Leadership Innovations on the Portland State University Campus. The Challenge will host 180 to 200 middle/high school students in a week-long series of workshops and activities that are designed to stimulate leadership among peers.

Two PSU alumni, Mark Jackson, ‘95, REAP executive director, and Nate Golden, ‘95, REAP director of programs, began the Challenge in 2009 at Mt. Hood Community College to target at-risk youth in Portland’s east side, where there are very few programs to support students outside of school. “We wanted to create a program that takes place prior to when school starts in the fall that is specific to 8-12th—grade students and addresses the leadership and educational gaps we see in our public schools,” Jackson said.

Challenge: Academy of Leadership Innovations is a five-day experience designed to empower youth through various training sessions. These activities are aimed at developing leadership skills that will unleash individual and collective creativity to build toward the future.

A typical day at Challenge includes a continental breakfast, followed by a motivational activity before students split off into sessions. Sessions are hosted by partner organizations and emphasize leadership concepts. After lunch, daily keynote speakers cover topics in four areas: leadership, health/civic involvement, business, and education. The program has grown over the last three years to include students from 45 different schools as far away as Springfield, Oregon.

Challenge is hosted by PSU who, along with many other business partners, will present various career opportunities. Challenge includes mock interviews, motivational speakers, group sessions, and recreation activities. An awards ceremony is held at the end and includes the opportunity to win a college scholarship.

This year’s keynote speakers are Oregon’s Chief Education Officer Dr. Rudy Crew, and Oregon’s First Lady Cylvia Hays.

Additional speakers include:

  • Mike Green, co-founder, America21 Project
  • Commissioner Karis Stoudamire-Phillips, MERC Commission
  • Dr. William Johnson, senior vice president and chief medical officer, ODS Companies
  • Dr. Kenneth Wright, executive director, Dental Services, Kaiser Permanente
  • Ben Cannon, Office of the Governor
  • Dr. Samuel Henry, professor of education, Portland State University
  • John Horvick, president-elect, City Club of Portland
  • Mel Sears, vice president, Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • Nancy Hamilton, director of strategic market development, McKinstry
  • Chris Denzin, vice president/GM, Century Link
  • Joy Ray, entrepreneur

GSE Professor Samuel Henry has been closely involved in the project since it arrived on campus. “When I see these youngsters: primarily Black, Latino, and poor, I see my family, my neighbors and my own community,” he says. “Not some other whose lifeline to education is an altruistic distant reality of mute concern.” Dr. Henry and GSE Instructor Howard Yank see the Challenge as an opportunity to engage GSE faculty and students with an at-risk population in a unique way.

“It’s about empowerment,” says Mr. Golden. “It’s about teaching kids the importance of leadership skills that foster innovation that aren’t offered anymore in schools.” Director Golden, whose background includes working in nonprofits that support youth, has encountered alumni from the program who tell them the week has significantly changed their lives.

REAP solicits corporate and organizational sponsors who also provide the program with guest speakers in their industry and “lunch buddies” who have an opportunity to connect with students one-on-one.

Learn more about Challenge: Academy of Leadership Innovations 2012

Read “Student Voices with REAP” by Samuel Henry

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