Webster University students from around the world traveled to the Webster Groves campus for a week over spring break. The occasion was the Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS), the first event of its kind in Webster history. Though it was the first time in the States for many students, the location they were most eager to see—to confirm the rumors from their hometowns—was a visit to Walmart.
During spring break, Webster University spent an estimated $40,000, according to Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Ted Hoef, to pay for the airfare of 19 Webster University students from study abroad campuses to come to Webster Groves. The summit was held as part of the university’s centennial events.
Students had a five-day schedule of events to reach the objective of the summit—improving cohesion in leadership throughout the Webster University campuses. The schedule included a campus tour, a day out on the town, team building, group dinners and leadership presentations produced by student groups.
During some free time, SGA president Gaby Deimeke said abroad students from her presentation group asked to go to Walmart. Deimeke said the students could not fathom a place where items were so cheap, with so many options.
“They really wanted to go to Walmart. We even took a picture in front so they had proof,” Deimeke said.
Out of 55 applicants, only 30 students were chosen to attend GSLS, 11 students being from the Webster Groves campus.
Undergraduate centennial representative Michael Grosch proposed the GSLS at the end of 2013. Grosch said he predicted more people would apply but was pleased overall with the outcome.
“It’s hard to tell someone to give up their spring break to do work. We didn’t want it to be a vacation — they needed to want to be there,” Grosch said.
Grosch said seeing his idea come to life was a great experience, but he was overwhelmed by the amount of direct feedback given to him.
“I can lead and plan things, but I have never been in the position of people coming up to me and saying ‘thank you’ and ‘good job’ . . . I almost didn’t know how to respond to it,” Grosch said.
Students came from Thailand, Geneva, Shanghai, Ghana, London, Leiden, Vienna and St. Louis. All the participants, including the Webster Groves campus students, were housed at Eden Theological Seminary’s West Hall. Hoef said the relationships he saw between the students made the experience special to everyone involved.
“We knew it would be good, but it was transformative,” Hoef said. “It was a completely other level to have the students face to face.”
Deimeke said the summit was more beneficial than she expected. She said the personal relationships made would help the cohesion and communication expand globally.
Deimeke said the retreat had already shown an improvement in the process of
leadership. Shortly after the GSLS Deimeke said the student body president at the Geneva campus contacted her asking about the process of SGA elections at the Webster Groves campus.
“I think we will see an impact globally. I think it is one of the smartest things Webster could have done,” Deimeke said.
Traditionally, the student presidents of all the global Webster campuses have scheduled monthly Skype meetings.
“It was the first time we can do this globally—we thought a lot bigger than we have before,” Deimeke said. “There is only so much you can do over Skype.”
Hoef said that there is no way to know if GSLS can happen in the future because, as of now, the University does not know how it will be funded.
On the last day students presented, in groups of six, ways to stay globally connected. The presentations were done in front of students, administration and faculty members. Deimeke, along with her group, presented a plan to make the summit a recurring event.
The presented plan included having GSLS every other year and having every campus involved split the cost evenly. The group also argued that if the summit were held in Europe, travel expenses would cost less due to the majority of campuses being closer to that region.
Though Deimeke has not heard a response from Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble about the presentation, she hopes it will be taken into consideration.