Students Visit South Africa for Leadership Symposium

Six Mercersburg Academy students, along with Director of Environmental Initiatives Will Willis and Director of Global Programs and Initiatives Leah Rockwell, attended this year’s International Student Leadership Symposium March 19-27 at Uplands College in White River, South Africa. It marked the 11th symposium for Mercersburg students to participate in since the inaugural event was held in 2007 in Oman.
Mercersburg’s six symposium ambassadors this year were Maggie Betkowski ’21 (Mercersburg, Pa.), Ryan Bland ’21 (Greencastle, Pa.), Clara Getty ’21 (Allentown, Pa.), Madi Norris ’21 (Oxford, Md.), Farah Yahaya ’21 (Easton, Pa.), and Andrew Yuen ’21 (Lawrence, N.J.).

Mercersburg and the ABA of Muscat, Oman, collaborated with a number of schools to form the symposium, which has been held on four different continents and was showcased in Africa for the first time this year. Mercersburg hosted the symposium in 2009 and 2015, and groups of student ambassadors have previously attended events held in Oman, Argentina, Germany, and China, as well as at Westlake Academy near Fort Worth, Texas, and at Mercersburg.

Illegal trade was the theme of this year’s symposium and was selected by the host school. “Given that the host school, Uplands College, is located beside Kruger National Park in South Africa, they chose illegal trade as the topic,” says Willis, who is also a member of Mercersburg’s science faculty. “Illegal trade is much deeper than strictly the loss of animal life. In much of the developing world, effective solutions must address social-justice issues like poverty and global wealth disparities, as well as international cooperation and law.”

In preparation for this year’s symposium, Mercersburg hosted a lunch on February 22 with two representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center in nearby Shepherdstown, W.Va. Attendees included Steve Chase P ’10, NCTC’s deputy director, and Bryan Landry, senior special agent in charge for international law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Symposium will offer our student ambassadors the opportunity to analyze and develop their own leadership styles, as well as to work with students from seven different countries towards increasing their empathy for all of humanity and promoting effective activism,” Willis says. “The leadership skills and inspiration they receive to address the realities of various elements of social justice will provide them with an opportunity to make a lasting change back on campus, as well as in the larger world beyond Mercersburg Academy.”

The students selected to attend apply in the spring of their ninth-grade year, and are chosen by a committee that weighs each student’s application, courses and grades, and faculty and staff recommendations.

“While the symposium is only about a week long, the experience of attending has impacted participants’ college majors and career choices,” Willis adds.

Before the symposium, the group spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, to explore local culture and history, climatize to the time change, and bond as a group.

Each symposium includes interactive and engaging activities, speakers, and field trips focused on grasping the importance of social justice, as well as sessions on developing and reflection on analysis of students’ own individual leadership skills.
Founded in 1893 in the heart of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, Mercersburg is a private, coed, college preparatory boarding school with approximately 435 students (15 percent are day), grades 9-12 and postgraduate.
We offer 170 courses, including AP and Honors, more than $7 million in financial aid, 26 varsity sports, and a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center.
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