Image 1: 2022 Student Leadership Conference Program
Image 1: Conference Program

PORTLAND, Ore. (January 27, 2022) – Dozens of college students discovered how to best show up as a leader in our changing times. On January 22, 2022, API Forward held its 3rd Annual Student Leadership Virtual Conference (Image 1) with a total of 37 attendees from colleges all over Oregon and southwest Washington. The five-hour conference provided students a chance to explore leadership skills, learn how to move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion, and hear about ways to engage in public service and community advocacy.

The conference kicked off with Sheila Murty, Executive Vice President, People & Culture of Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), as the keynote speaker. Born in Malaysia as a south Asian Indian, Murty came to the U.S to study for her undergraduate degree. After graduation, she started her career as a clinical scientist, working in the health industry. After twists and turns in sales, marketing and later HR, she now finds herself in her current role at TCCA, managing people and acting as an advocate for diversity, a completely different industry and job description from her original work. From her life experience, Murty shared that “progress is seldom linear,” encouraging all to embrace the unexpected and be curious as “the best opportunities often present themselves in the most unexpected ways. She also urged everyone to have a story file to capture personal stories for future uses.

Following the insightful keynote, all participants shifted their focus to the subject of unconscious bias, a session led by Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas, the Manager for Organizational Training & Education at Oregon Health and Science University. Merecias-Cuevas approached the topic by showcasing the brain functions and neural process of unconscious bias. From there, participants learned about how to identify everyday bias and engaged students in an exercise to create a conscious inclusion environment as a leader. The morning sessions ended with much inspiration and learning.

Image 2: Conference participants doing a mindfulness exercise

After lunch and a mindfulness exercise (Image 2), the conference continued with two panel discussions centered around leadership –  one focusing on public service and the other on community advocacy.

The public service panel featured Rep. Khanh Pham, State Representative for Oregon House District 46; Amanda Park, Project Manager of Prosper Portland; and Ian Davie, Deputy Executive Director at Home Forward. With their personal mission to make a change to better the world around them, the panel shared their journey to public service. As demanding as each of their roles can be, all the speakers expressed that it is also very rewarding and fulfilling, and they urge the younger generation to be authentic and listen well when put in a leadership position. 

For the community advocacy panel, students heard from Theresa Mai, Co-Chair of the Multnomah County Charter Review Committee; Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie, Director of Health Share of Oregon; Makerusa Porotesano, coordinator of Sylvania Multicultural Center at Portland Community College. Each panelist shared their motivation to community engagement work, including local and state legislative involvement, refugee advocacy and climate protection. While they encourage young people to bring forth their energy/ideas and not let age be the barrier, they also cautioned that they should remain humble and stay curious, and that their drive should also match the work quality. In addition to devoting yourself in the leadership role, they unanimously agreed that knowing when to say no, and knowing how to work within a team are crucial to the longevity of your success. Self-care is important to avoid burnout and exhaustion. 

The conference brought many students hope and inspired them to become future leaders. Tasi Pereira, a freshman from Southern Oregon University, said during the live session, “ I’m really happy that I stayed and I listened to everyone’s presentation. The passion you all have for the work that you do really does make me hopeful.”

Another student, Selaina Tuato’o, also shared, “Thank you for this conference! As a proud Samoan and a part of this conference has moved me. I am always curious and ears open to advice or tips that leaders have for our generation. I am uplifted and motivated by the many talks shared today. I am looking forward to applying all the positive words shared today to my future plans in life. Thank you for sharing! Fa’afetai lava!”

Lastly, students also shared their appreciation anonymously for the event in the post-event survey. One student wrote, “Overall, I felt the conference to be an awakening and an insight on how to use my voice to become a better leader. I have taken notes and learned valuable information during the conference.”

Other Quotes: 

“I think events like this are super important for students as a first perspective into activism and advocacy, but also to continue to experience. Every time I hear from people in the community, especially Mak, I feel renewed and like there is some good in the world and that this work isn’t fruitless. Thank you all for everything, all of your energies and all of your work<3”

“Much love to all the organizers, speakers, and everyone who heeded the call to come together in the community today. So grateful for sharing your energies, knowledge, and experiences with all of us. ️”

“Thank you to all the organizers and guest speakers for inviting me to the conference! I have taken notes on what all the speakers spoke about today.”