Young leaders from five states converged on the York College campus for a week of learning and development at the Presidential Leadership Institute (PLI), July 15-21.

Specifically designed for students in grades 10-12, the Presidential Leadership Institute promotes leadership development among high potential students in Christian high school settings.

Twenty-nine students from Christian high schools in Alabama, Florida, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma attended the weeklong institute on the York College campus this year. Now in its fifth year, the event brings together thought leaders from industry, education, political, and ministry spheres to discuss what makes a great leader. Student teams from each school put together an impact plan for the coming year at their school and presented their ideas at the end of the week.

“PLI is important because it get the kids to look at issues at our school and formulate a plan to make it better,” said Sara Hill, secondary assistant principal at Mount Dora Christian Academy. “For change to happen, it must be student driven. I see students come back from PLI excited to lead the change.”

This was the second year Hill has brought students to PLI. “The biggest benefit of PLI is them hearing from all of these great leaders and they see themselves in that role in their arena, their schools,” she said, noting that her students worked on a plan to implement a host of new ideas and activities to improve campus culture and break down cliques.

Hill recently completed master’s degrees through York College Online in Education and in Organizational and Global Leadership. She has taught at Mount Dora Christian Academy for five years and is beginning her first year as an administrator this fall.

PLI was especially meaningful to Rebekah Powell (photo right, center), a junior at Oklahoma Christian Academy in Edmond. Powell was recognized at the conclusion of the week with the Howard Todd Servant Leadership Scholarship Award. The full tuition scholarship to York College is given annually to the PLI student who best demonstrates leadership and character.

The award is named in honor of Howard Todd, who ministered and taught for 45 years at Alabama Christian Academy.

Powell was eager to see who would be chosen for the award as it was to recognize “a leader among leaders,” she said. When they were describing the winner, Powell remembers thinking, “that does NOT sound like me.” Describing herself as an introvert, Powell says she really pushed to get out of her comfort zone during PLI in order to grow. She made a point to ask a lot of questions and talk to her peers, mentors, and faculty members.

“There were a lot of amazing people at PLI. I felt like I could learn from every person there,” she said. Still, she had no idea she would win the award, as she would not have previously said leadership was one of her strengths. PLI was a very reflective time for Powell, who said that the week made her realize how she can be a better person and create a better community.

York College students served as mentors throughout the week. Powell said she was surprised by how eager the mentors were to engage with the high school students, from helping them carry in their luggage to giving them life advice to assisting with the PLI assignments. “They wanted to be there for us in any way that they could...We understood from the first day that they wanted us to excel,” she said.

The faculty were also there to encourage excellence. Nathan Mellor, CEO of Strata Leadership, told students in the opening session, “We are here to push you. We expect greatness of you.” The faculty’s high expectations, useful lessons, and constant encouragement meant students had the maximum return on investment for their time during PLI.  

“The speakers built us up so that we can build others up,” said Powell, whose group worked on a plan to move the students of Oklahoma Christian Academy from a consumer to a contributor culture. Powell is clearly already a contributor: she is involved with softball, basketball, drama, and student government. She is also studying apologetic writing.

Mary Eisenhower (top photo), president of the Board of Directors of People to People International, is a regular presenter at PLI. Powell says she was impressed with Mary Eisenhower’s authenticity, approachability, experiences, and attitude. “She’s very wise….everything she said made you feel like you were back in the White House with her,” said Powell, recounting some of the stories Ms. Eisenhower told about being the grandchild of President Dwight Eisenhower.