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Two of Asbury University’s Political Science students participated in the National Student Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. Nov. 12-14 on a scholarship funded by local business professionals working to build an official Kentucky Student Leadership Forum in Frankfort.

Chosen to represent Asbury and Kentucky at the NSLF, sophomores James Banter and Lawson Harrell spent the weekend with peers and American politicians from across the country. During the weekend, the two representatives gained a better understanding of the national forum and are expected to play an important role in promoting both the NSLF and the new KSLF to college students around Kentucky.

At present, the NSLF recognizes 11 state leadership forums throughout the country. Volunteers with the Faith Based Initiative have been working for the past few years to begin a state leadership forum in Kentucky. Although the forum is being modeled after the NSLF, it will have its differences. The KSLF is not set up as a separate event from the prayer breakfast like the NSLF. Instead, it works alongside the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast to give college students the opportunity to learn from the speakers attending the breakfast.

The national forum attended by Banter and Harrell has its roots in the National Prayer Breakfast and is designed to “encourage the leaders of tomorrow toward growth and maturity,” according to the NSLF Web site. The first forum began this tradition in 1990 and included a former Vice-President, a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Representative and then Missouri Governor John Ashcroft.

Both Banter and Harrell said the NSLF was different from other seminars they had been to where they spent the majority of their time in meetings. “With the forum you would go and hear a speaker but not for the whole time. We spent hours discussing and not just listening to somebody,” said Banter.

Participants in the NSLF were divided into groups of eight to ten students while former participants in the forum facilitated and encouraged conversation. Harrell said, “Rather than it just being about listening to what others had to say about leadership in our small groups, my leader really tried to talk about hot button issues with us. He tried to get us to think critically.”

Banter, who had a similar experience, said, “I’ve never had so many deep intellectual discussions in one weekend in my life. I came back, and I was mentally drained. It was really good for me to go. And I feel like I definitely learned some things.”

To participate in the KSLF, students are selected by the presidents of their university. Daniel Lewis, a volunteer as well as the executive director of The River Foundation, said that for last year’s KSLF, “the governor’s office invited the presidents of every college [in Kentucky] to invite two students…that showed good leadership and were on a faith journey.”

Banter and Harrell were also nominated in order to attend the NSLF and went through an application process before they were accepted. Asbury’s Director of Alumni Relations and Parent’s Program (and volunteer with the KSLF) Carolyn Ridley, said they were selected as sophomores with the hope they will be around Asbury for the next two years to promote the KSLF and NSLF.

Ridley said “We’ll definitely have [Banter and Harrell] share at the 2011 Kentucky Student Leadership Forum when it meets in Frankfort.” The date and location for the upcoming KSLF have not yet been announced but it is expected to occur in the spring.

— Story by: Riah Lawry; Photo by: Susannah Bretz; Originally published in The Asbury Collegian