How Setting Sail on the Leadership Means Bright Futures for Everyone

Dustin Beech/Student Engagement Student Union
The 30 Emerging Leaders participants after their “weekend of uncertainty” in the woods.

Jorja Gwaltney/Correspondent

Only a few programs on the Embry-Riddle campus require nominations to be a part of it.  The evening of Jan. 19, 2018, two Embry-Riddle employees, Dustin Beech and Sean Murphy, corralled 30 nominated Embry-Riddle first-year students into vans for a weekend of uncertainty. 

That uncertainty revealed itself as the Emerging Leaders Program.  Started in 2007 by Embry-Riddle’s Director of Union Operations and Events, Amy Deahl, this program gives students an experience of a lifetime, not only emerging as new leaders but also as friends with deep connections.  Deahl said the program was started to “develop and enhance the leadership skills of first-year students as well as help prepare first-year students to serve as leaders in the future both on and off campus.” 

It is a program that helps promote the most important aspects of what makes a leader, a leader.  Sean Murphy, Assistant Director of Leadership & Civic Engagement and an Emerging Leaders Program Leader, describes the program as “a semester-long program for first-year students filled with leadership experiences, workshops, conversations, service projects, and relationship-building.”

The program begins with professors nominating a few of their students to join the program.  Once nominated, each nominee received an email with a link to the program application.  After the application process, they narrow down the number of nominees even further.  The next step was attending the retreat on Jan. 19. 

Murphy made an accurate statement about this weekend: “Many students create long-term friendships and broaden their perspectives, often going on to serve ERAU in leadership positions and excelling in their careers afterward.”  So the program and what’s learned during the retreat goes far beyond just the 30 of us that went.  Past ELP participants went on to affect the entire campus.  Those participants include fraternity & sorority presidents, ROTC commanders, SGA presidents, and many other influential stations. 

Murphy gave us the inside scoop on what’s next for the program.  “Future activities for the Emerging Leaders include participation in mentoring activities, in-depth reflection and calls to action, and the potential opportunity to engage in an upper-class leadership track.

The Emerging Leaders will also serve as a formidable presence of students during the upcoming Student Leadership Conference on Saturday, Feb. 24 and as positive difference-makers during the Campus-Wide Day of Service on Saturday, March 24. We’re excited to continue the relationships and growth, and this year’s team of amazing participants is one of the best we’ve ever seen!”

The weekend retreat alone was a game-changer.  A participant in the program, Vraj Patel, told The Avion about his views before and after the weekend away.  “I believe that this world is cruel and cold. I find the purpose of living is nothing.  After sleeping in the cold for two nights with randoms, I began to realize the meaning of life.  After getting out of my comfort zone and interacting with humans, I saw the purpose of life is to serve and to reveal compassion and love to others. Take some time out and speak to the person next to you.”

Each of us made 29 friends in just 48 hours (31 if you include the outstanding program leaders).  Maybe it was because we were all trapped (willingly, of course) on a campsite together for two days, or perhaps it was because we were all open to making new experiences and friends.  Whatever the reason, we became incredibly comfortable with each other quite quickly.  It was such an astonishing experience seeing how all of us came from different backgrounds but still ended up in the same place: this program at Embry-Riddle. 

“The Emerging Leaders Program inspired me to think differently and focus on improving myself to become the successful leader that [Murphy and Beech] are inspiring us to be,” Owen Theeck, a Business Administration student that attended the retreat, told The Avion. 

Dustin Beech, Assistant Director of Student Activities and an Emerging Leaders Program Leader, shared his thoughts on the program: “The Emerging Leaders Program on many campuses is a staple in their leadership development programming. At ERAU, this is no exception. For years our department has played a role in facilitating the Emerging Leaders Program, which begins with a retreat during the spring semester. I believe this is a great opportunity for first-year students following their first semester in college to enhance a variety of soft skills, complementing learning occurring in the classroom. This year’s Emerging Leaders were interested in areas of leadership including communication, public speaking, conflict resolution, and teamwork. As a co-facilitator, it was incredible to watch a group of 30 strangers learn, develop, challenge one another, and even become friends in less than 48 hours. The nightly bonfires probably helped a bit with that. Many attendees are involved both inside and outside of the classroom, holding leadership positions in their respective organizations or discovering other off-campus leadership opportunities. If there had been a program similar to Emerging Leaders at my undergraduate institution, I would have joined. Embry-Riddle students are highly motivated and competent in so many aspects of aviation and aerospace; retreats like these help students to get away from campus and focus on acknowledging what makes each of us different, yet celebrating our similarities. We all have a story of how we ended up at Riddle. It is clear that this year’s Emerging Leaders come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and I am excited about their next steps along their path to graduation. Thanks to all those who joined us this year; you all are good humans!”

To register for the Student Leadership Conference on Saturday, Feb. 24, follow this link: (