The National Student Leadership Conference: The Lasting Effects On Alumni


Megan Pitt '23, Editor in Chief

Last July, students from all over the country traveled to American University in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Only a few months earlier, they’d each received an envelope in the mail and an opportunity that would change their life forever: An invitation from the National Student Leadership Conference.

Some students noted that the program was daunting at first. 18-year-old Anthony Scarmack admitted that the admission cost was what initially discouraged him from attending: “I pushed it off to the side at first and it was honestly because of the price tag.” Other students were drawn to the mystery of the envelope. As MJ Reeves described, “getting the envelope was just a thrilling and exciting experience in general.”

Nevertheless, hundreds of students migrated to American University on the 28th of July, 2021, to study film, journalism, and media arts. And they certainly were not disappointed with the adventure’s results. 

A large part of the program was the friendships that were made. The students were placed in groups with people they had never met before from all different parts of the country. Regardless of this seemingly divisive factoid, each person made the best of the situation and in fact, appeared to be better off as a result. Bella Artiga reflected on the situation by stating that she “enjoyed interacting with people from different places, from the opposite side of the country, or even other countries.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

It may be assumed by those who have never attended the conference, that these relationships were dismantled only days after the students returned home. However, aspiring filmmaker Bryce Goodman holds a different opinion: “We still talk on group chats to this day because one week together made us all a family.” 

The communications students also established strong connections with their Teaching Assistants. Being assigned to a specific person upon arrival gave them a great opportunity to befriend a more artistically experienced person, who they quickly learned would become one of their role models. Devyn Ivers shared a pleasant personal anecdote concerning their TA: “My TA was Kate, and she was the absolute sweetest person ever. The first day of NSLC I had a panic attack and was nonverbal for the whole day. I got super depressed and stayed in bed. Kate checked in on me almost every hour to make sure I was okay. She made me feel really welcomed and helped me overcome what I was going through so I could join everyone the next day.”

Other students recognized their TA’s, Zach Bernstein and Xavier “Zae” Washington, as significant influences in their lives. Aria Desai specified that “Zach had this ability to relate to every one of us– no matter how unique and how outlandish our ideas were.” Anthony Scarmack also voiced his appreciation for his TA: “My TA was Zae and honestly, I think Zae had a very big impact on me. He was just a very lovable person and so outgoing and he matched my energy. He’s that person I want to be when I grow up.”

Similarly, the Teaching Assistant’s created impenetrable bonds with their students. Aspiring high school teacher Kate Gilberd described her students as rather impactful as they solidified her passion for education: “I know now that I really do want to work with students the rest of my life.” Zach Bernstein, an alumnus of the Film, Journalism, and Media Arts program at NSLC himself, commented on the beauty of watching his students grow: “It was moving watching them learn.”

Over the nine-day conference, the students had two major tasks: create a 48-second film and participate in a newsroom simulation. For both activities, they worked in their assigned groups. 

Only given a genre, a random movie quote, free-range of the campus, and a time frame, the groups were determined to create a successful film. One group was provided with a famous line from the hit television show, Riverdale and the genre of historical fiction. This was an intimidating task, but together a remarkable video was produced. 

The newsroom simulation was another great undertaking for the young leaders. A Twitter account run by conference staff provided false news for the journalists to work with. New information arrived every minute and they were required to keep up with it as they were expected to assemble a photo reel, a short news broadcast, and a 500-word article by the end of the three-hour time frame. 

At the conference’s closing ceremony, awards were distributed to those worthy. Devyn Ivers won an award for their article and they could only describe the experience as utterly rewarding: “I learned so much from that day, like the intensity of a newsroom and how there are many different working parts.” They also said that the event “turned out to be very affirming and drove my passion for a journalism career.”

It should be noted that while the students learned a good deal about the media, they also learned a lot about themselves. Abby Tredway voiced that while she wasn’t expecting to discover too much at the conference, she did realize that she’s “a very adaptable person.” Adriana Rivera also celebrated the lessons the conference taught her–confidence and the notion that nobody is truly alone, with their passions or in life in general.

The Teaching Assistants also felt that the experience was one of vast self-growth. Kate Gilberd said, “I learned a lot about my own boundaries and abilities, as well as the types of people that I work best with”. Zach Bernstein identified his experience as quite eye-opening, as education emerged as a possible career path for him and Xavier Washington felt that the program taught him the art of listening: “I think for me, listening and amplifying were muscles I didn’t work out often and quickly realized I needed for this job.”

All alumni advocated for the program and some expressed their appreciation for the structural aspect of it. Nyla Anderson deemed the conference rewarding by emphasizing the level of maturity required for attendance: “For NSLC, you are treated as a college student and the same expectations are held. This camp, I had to be more responsible for myself, like setting my alarm and not taking a shower that lasts two hours.” 

Aria Desai summed it up best when she said, “NSLC has forever provided me with a home.”

A 2021 alumna myself, I wholeheartedly agree with this notion. The National Student Leadership Conference is an unforgettable experience, no matter the path you choose to pursue there.