December 9, 2016

The Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference offers professional development opportunities to black students attending Texas regional universities.

KaieEssence Bodden ’17 describes herself as an introvert who prefers spending time with small groups instead of large crowds.   While she still relishes those small group interactions, the New Orleans native has honed her ability to lead larger groups, thanks to her participation in the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC) hosted by Texas A&M University. Bodden now serves as one of SBSLC’s top student leaders and is responsible for planning the three-day event that will bring 600 university students to College Station in January.

The first-generation Aggie began volunteering as a freshman with SBSLC, which is coordinated through Texas A&M University’s Department of Multicultural Services in the Division of Student Affairs. By her sophomore year, Bodden was responsible for maintaining the conference’s $150,000 budget and seeking sponsorships from Fortune 500 corporations.

Bodden’s involvement with SBSLC continued to grow as an upperclassman. As a junior, she was appointed SBSLC’s director of administration and trained Aggie freshmen to handle the conference’s frontline responsibilities, such as serving as greeters and tour guides.

The economics major now serves as the associate chair of programs, one of the top positions on SBSLC’s executive committee. Bodden is charged with developing and supervising the student directors who are responsible for organizing and planning the 2017 event.

This three-day event draws around 600 students from universities across the United States.

Reaching an International Audience

Founded in 1988, SBSLC began as a way to offer specific professional development opportunities to Black students attending Texas regional universities. Since its inception, interest in the annual conference has grown steadily and registrants now regularly attend from beyond the Lone Star State’s borders. Now the three-day event draws around 600 students from universities across the United States and other nations, such as the West Indies. In addition to the 25 Aggies who serve on the conference’s executive committee and 41 Aggies who work at the conference, approximately 35 Aggies are conference attendees each year.

The theme of the 29th annual conference, set for January 19-22, is “Activating the Vision.” The program is designed to help participants improve their leadership skills so they can become successful Black leaders in today’s society. “I think it’s important for conference attendees to see African American leaders in positions of power and as role models,” Bodden said. “Black student leaders also can help invoke change, even in the most minuscule way. They can work to bring change to their communities and their universities while carrying themselves in a positive way that represents the Black community.”

This year’s conference includes Thursday’s opening ceremony, Friday’s breakfast with a featured speaker, a career and vendor fair, and a closing banquet with a keynote speaker. In addition, participants can attend workshops covering a variety of topics, including setting personal goals, taking an active leadership role, networking, etiquette, creating a resume, financial planning and preparing for graduate school. Special sessions also are planned for higher education advisors who work with underrepresented student groups.

Finding Ways to Enhance Leadership Lessons

The theme of the 29th annual conference, set for January 19-22, is “Activating the Vision.”

The conference budget is primarily funded through attendee registrations, corporate sponsorships and vendor fees. These funds can quickly be used up by major conference expenses, including conference speakers, catering, facility use, and marketing and promotional materials.  Contracts for campus facilities, event catering and a B-list keynote speaker can each easily require a $20,000 investment.

Establishing an endowed fund would help organizers cover the cost of these big-ticket items so they can use budgeted funds to expand and enhance the conference’s offerings. For instance, the family of Charles E. Williams II ‘00 created an endowed fund following his death in a car crash in 1999. This fund supports the conference’s Advanced Leadership Institute, which provides an in-depth learning opportunity for selected exemplary Black student leaders. The Williams family has attended the conference every year since they created the endowment.

A New Generation of Leaders

While the conference provides participants with a wealth of ideas and contacts, the Aggies who coordinate it reap the largest benefit. “Working on this conference helped me get through my time at Texas A&M,” Bodden said. “I feel it is very important as an African American student at Texas A&M to be able to work with people you can relate to in a different way and through a cultural aspect.”

Working on SBSLC also provides student organizers with valuable real-world experience. “This conference has taught me a lot about branding myself personally and handling myself in corporate America,” said Bodden, who plans to attend law school after graduation. “It’s given me a lot of valuable skills and helped me get out of my shell. Anytime I go on an interview for a job or admission to law school, I know I can always fall back on what I’ve learned through SBSLC. It’s been my foundation throughout my entire time at Texas A&M.”

You can support the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.