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AlumNews: Talon Articles

Meetings motivate, inspire students

Tuesday, February 26, 2008  
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By Tracy Corcoran

Waking up early can have its advantages, and in the case of leaders from campus and the community, the advantage comes in the form of monthly breakfast meetings.

Executive Conversations are meetings introducing students, faculty and staff to important leaders in Oklahoma City. The meetings show those in attendance how many similarities they can have with state senators or CEOs of large companies.

Executives Conversations started about a year and a half ago and are held one Wednesday of every month at 7 a.m. Oklahoma Christian University President Mike O'Neal started Executive Conversations as a way to motivate and inspire students, faculty and staff.

Some of the speakers who have attended the meetings are Oklahoma state senator Scott Pruitt, United States Court of Appeals judge Jerome Holmes and last Wednesday's speaker, chairman and CEO at SandRidge Energy Tom Ward.

Vice President for Advancement John deSteiguer said through these meetings, one realizes they aren't so different from an extremely successful person.

"You pick up a newspaper, and you read about a billionaire who is running a company that has thousands of employees and you think, 'Wow, that must be a really different person than the rest of us,'" deSteiguer said. "When you have him in a small, breakfast setting, and he's standing there ten feet from you and answering your questions and talking about himself, you realize these business leaders, these men and women who are making an impact out there, are not so different from us."

He hopes a student, staff or faculty member will realize they have the same opportunities to make a difference in their part of the world as these individuals are making in theirs.

Junior Peter Cariaga started going to Executive Conversations to learn how others became successful while still holding onto their Christian principles.

"I thought, 'What a great opportunity this would be to learn from people who have been at the forefront of their industry; to learn not only specific principles and guidelines, but also to know what they did to achieve not only their financial and career success, but also how they integrate that into their Christian life and how they reach out to the community through that,'" Cariaga said.

Junior Ryan Groves has been attending Executive Conversations since spring 2007 and said these meetings help him and all of those who attend get answers and opinions about the state of our country and world.

"When we had the General, we were able to ask questions about what he thinks about the current world situation," Groves said. "When we had the guy from the bank, we were able to ask him questions about the economy.  I think that stuff is not just relevant to the students but also to the professors because they're out there teaching about things. This is a really cool update and behind the scenes of the real world, which I think is going to be passed down to all of the students."

While O'Neal is satisfied with what Oklahoma Christian is teaching in the classroom, he said this extra information and one-on-one time with local leaders teaches the students a deeper understanding of what it's like to be a leader while still being faithful to a person's values.

"I really believe what we're doing in the classroom is wonderful here, but I think it's so important we actually see people who are doing important things in life and to let them come share with us in an informal setting and talk to us from their heart about what values they believe have enabled them to achieve in their work or in their life and how their faith and personal life all integrate with that," O'Neal said. "They've been marvelous experiences."

Getting to know one's own community is also important in Executive Conversations.

"I think they're great opportunities for people on campus, students, faculty and staff to get to know and network with some of the movers and shakers out there in our community at large," deSteiguer said.

O'Neal chooses speakers who are driven by good values and who care about the training taking place at the university.

"Some of them are not necessarily well known," O'Neal said. "We've had some people who are quiet, servant leaders, who have made a significant impact somewhere. They may not be the high profile people, but in many ways, I cherish them more than the high profile people because more of us, normal humans, can be those kind of lower profile people but still have a significant impact on the world around us."

O'Neal said not everyone is geared to the limelight, the press and the sort of things going on with some of the higher profile spots.

One of the important things Cariaga has learned is how to look and act like a true leader.

"It has mainly given me an idea of what these kind of leaders look like, what they do, how they act and how they present themselves," Cariaga said. "There have been some speakers who come in, and they show their humility. They show they don't have it all figured it, and they show they don't take themselves too seriously."

Cariaga said there are people who know how to not be too full of themselves and those people attract others because of their humility.

While not every student is able to attend Executive Conversations , O'Neal says if other students are truly interested in the program, arrangements can be made.

"What we asked was for certain offices to tell us what students they think ought to come," O'Neal said. "They'll pick students who they think have leadership capacity and who would be interested in this sort of thing."

O'Neal is only hesitant to let more students attend because the venue does not lend itself to huge numbers.

"If somebody was really interested and wanted to contact my office and give us a little background and tell us why they want to come, we'd try to shoe horn in a few more," O'Neal said.

Executive Conversations has taught deSteiguer about becoming a more efficient member at Oklahoma Christian.

"I've taken something away from each one of those conversations," deSteiguer said. "I've taken away lessons and things I think will make me a better person and a more effective staff member here at the university."

O'Neal hopes Executive Conversations will teach and impact each person who attends the meetings.

"My dream and my hope is this will make us better people and better leaders here and our students who participate will become better leaders as well," O'Neal said.  

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