Reflections: Sigma Beta Delta Leadership Academy

Academic advisor and master’s student Savannah White reflects on this year’s Sigma Beta Delta Leadership Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas. White was selected among 24 other participants from U.S. colleges to attend the honor society’s annual event in the face of fierce competition and was honored to be among the lucky few to meet fellow business students and industry leaders from several top companies at this inspiring and prestigious annual event.

Savannah White Sigma Beta Delta

Sigma Beta Delta Leadership Academy 2017: Master’s Student Savannah White Reports from this Year’s Prestigious Event

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.

Sigma Beta Delta is an international honor society that recognizes and encourages scholarship and accomplishment among students of business, management, and administration. Students who have attained superior records in business programs with accredited colleges are invited to join and are inducted into a chapter each year. There are many benefits to being a member of Sigma Beta Delta, such as networking and professional development. One of these opportunities is its annual leadership academy that aims to educate and support students on varying leadership styles and strengths, connect participants with local leaders for insight and experience sharing, and provide networking with executives through panel discussions. This was Sigma Beta Delta’s second leadership academy and I had the pleasure of attending.

Advisor and Excelsior Student

I currently work as an academic advisor in the Student Success Center at Excelsior College. Some may know me from my previous position as a student success coach where I had the pleasure of working with many students. I’ve been with Excelsior for almost three years and during my time here, I was also a student! I completed my Master of Science in Management this past May and upon completion, was given the opportunity to attend the Sigma Beta Delta Leadership Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas. Students are nominated by faculty members who manage their honor society chapter at their school. I was nominated by Michele Paludi, the chapter representative for Excelsior.

Leadership and Big Corporations

Now, some may ask— why Bentonville, Arkansas? I also had no idea what to expect. After arriving, we learned that Bentonville is the home of many big corporations’ headquarters. Walmart and Tyson Foods Inc. originated out of Bentonville, and JB Hunt currently operates its headquarters in the area. The city itself is urban and progressive with various art museums and cocktail bars. We were given time to explore the area, and I would recommend if you ever have the chance or find yourself close to Bentonville that you certainly take a trip.

Day 1: Goal Setting

The academy is a busy three days from Thursday- Saturday with a full agenda. Before attending any conference, it’s always important to ask yourself, “What are my goals for being here and what am I hoping to take-away?” This sets the stage for staying focused and taking full advantage of your time there. For me, I wanted to learn more about varying leadership styles with an emphasis on diversity, generational differences, and change management. The leadership academy did not disappoint in delivering on my goals. The first day of the conference we met with executives from Tyson Foods and JB Hunt. We spent the day learning about their corporate culture, leadership, and business practices.

Day 2: Team Building

Day two consisted of team building exercises, a panel discussion with executives from varying industries and fields, and a speaker to close the day. Julie Gehrki, vice president of the Walmart Foundation, Walmart’s philanthropic investment unit, discussed Walmart’s initiatives on sustainability and the importance of corporate philanthropy. She was happy to answer questions following her speech and there was time to personally meet and talk with her at the end of the day. This was a highlight for me as such opportunities are rare.

Day 3: Awards and Final Words

The third and final day of the academy consisted of an awards ceremony, congratulating all participants and faculty members on a productive and eventful weekend. Joanne Brandes, the founder and co-president of the Center for Leadership Excellence gave an empowering speech about women in the workforce, the utilization of circles of influence, and how passion and perseverance will keep you moving forward. I learned a great deal from Ms. Brandes, an attorney and former general counsel to the S.C. Johnson family, as she explained that the values of generations don’t necessarily differ; it’s more of the experiences that do. She explained that you can use these experiences to find middle ground and create a collaborative atmosphere.

Leadership and Friendship

At the end of the academy, I not only gained more friends but also grew my own circle of influence and connections. I networked with top executives in prominent fields such as technology and philanthropy, as well as gained insight and advice on managing teams. I also had the opportunity to get the know the organizers, Peter and Amber, who worked so diligently to put the academy together. In the future, I hope to return as speaker and share my experience as a leader in higher education. Lastly, I would encourage others to seek out leadership opportunities when available. We practice leadership every day, whether it’s formal, informal, in the workplace or at home, and these skills are key to communicating effectively and building trust. Learn more about the Sigma Beta Delta Honor Society and how you can join.