Leadership institute preserves
John Ben Shepperd's legacy
Learning to Lead
During his lifetime, John Ben Shepperd chaired more than 300 charitable, civic and religious organizations and more than 2,000 committees. Before his death in 1990, four U.S. presidents and seven governors had appointed him to numerous national and state boards and commissions.
During the 1950s, Shepperd also served Texas as secretary of state and attorney general. It was his remarkable record as a volunteer in the community, however, that most people remember. He served as a local, state and national president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and was instrumental in creating the Texas Arts Commission as well as the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UT-PB).
Shepperd's legacy of community service lives on at UT-PB. The university is home to the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, created by the 1995 Texas Legislature to honor Shepperd.
The institute's mission is to provide young Texans an education for leadership, ethics and public service. Its goal is to improve young Texans' personal leadership skills, help them develop their sense of community responsibility and educate them on the importance of ethics and public service.
To achieve that goal, the institute's seven-member staff and a large group of volunteers offer a variety of conferences and forums for high school students, college students and adults each year. The institute, which has an annual legislative appropriation of about $800,000, is dedicated to promoting lifelong learning about leadership for Texans.
With the help of local volunteers and local public officials, the institute sponsors about 40 one-day leadership forums for high school students from across the state. From 80 to 100 students attend each forum, so the institute reaches about 4,000 students each year.
At each forum, local leaders speak to the students about the value of participating in local volunteer and community activities. The students break into small groups where they discuss developing leadership skills, communications, goal setting and identifying service opportunities in their own area. Each summer, the institute hosts a week-long summer camp for about 30 high school students.
Marisa Huerta, a La Grange junior from Round Top/Carmine High School, attended a one-day Student Leadership Forum in 2001 and the institute's summer camp in Odessa the same year.
"I have new priorities and a new outlook," Huerta wrote in a letter of appreciation. "My involvement with the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Forum has helped with this growth. I have opened my eyes to the world around me. After attending the leadership forum, I applied myself and volunteered or joined many new groups."
Eric Kennedy, from Ingleside High School, also summarized what he took away from a student forum held in 2000.
"I enjoyed learning information about leadership and community service that I can take back to my community and teach others," Kennedy says. "I enjoyed participating in all kinds of events with students from other areas, and learning new ideas and ways to do community service from them. When discussing something like this [community project] in just one school or club, the solutions tend to be similar, but when people from different areas come together to discuss it, many varied solutions are usually brought up."
"We invest in people," says the institute's executive director, Dr. Duane Leach. "People are the only truly renewable resource that Texas has, and people can be renewed at 15 years of age or at 50. And that is one of the reasons we broadened our programs to reach adults."
Gloria Minney, a teacher with 43 years of experience who teaches geography at El Paso's Del Valle High School, says she changed the way she taught after attending two one-month conferences for teachers sponsored by the institute.
"The two conferences reminded me who I was and what I had to offer and stimulated me to think in a new way about teaching and about life," she says. "I've applied what I learned and it has enriched me and my students."
Each year, the institute holds leadership conferences and a distinguished lecture series for professionals. In addition, the institute sponsors an Annual Leadership Forum at which outstanding local and state leaders are honored. A panel of judges selects award winners from nominations from across the state.
Those recognized as outstanding Texas leaders in recent years include acting Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, Attorney General John Cornyn and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. Past recipients of the Outstanding Local Leader award include former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, Corpus Christi Mayor Loyd Neal and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.
New degree programs
For the first time, in fall 2001, UT-PB also began offering an undergraduate degree in leadership studies.
"Our new leadership studies program is unique among the state's public universities," says assistant director Charles Cotton. "We're just beginning to publicize this program, and we look forward to students who are interested in this area enrolling in the degree program."
David Watts, UT-PB president, says the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute is key to the mission and purpose of the university. In addition to the undergraduate degree, Watts said the university will propose a master's degree in public leadership and administration to the University of Texas Board of Regents.
"We hope the regents will be able to review and recommend the proposal to the coordinating board late this spring," Watts says. "With luck, the program should be available within the year. Leadership is a key area for us and will continue to be so in the future."
It's about serving
Moral, ethical and character values are the foundation upon which the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute is built, says Duane Leach, the institute's executive director. The institute tries to promote the highest ethical standards among young people and encourage them to enter public service.
"Since we started in 1995, we've worked with more than 35,000 young people and adults," Leach says. "And we've discovered a hunger for leadership education, and we have found out our emphasis on ethics and the need for civic virtue rings a bell with people.
"We recruit adults to help teach young people, and these adults come back year after year because they see the value of community involvement. People want to be involved in something greater than themselves and want to believe in ideals greater than themselves."
That's why the students come back each year, Leach says.
"They know that what we do is important and has long-range ramifications for the state and their children," he says. "It is so important we get the very best people we can involved in public service, which Mr. Shepperd believed was the highest calling a person could serve. In essence, public service is serving our fellow man, and that is what life is all about."