CFI Leadership Stories
June 7, 2012
Center for Inquiry On Campus (and its predecessor, the Campus Freethought Alliance) has been connecting students with knowledge, resources, and other leading secular activists and scientists for over fifteen years. We believe that it is our job to inspire students and to educate the secular leaders of tomorrow so that they can expand on the limits of our knowledge and bring reason to the coming generations. A big part of how we fulfill this mission of being a jumping-off point for young freethinkers is by holding our annual student leadership conference. It is a chance for students to come together in real life and relate leadership experiences, share how-to tips, make connections, and inspire each other. Several students who attended the 2011 Student Leadership Conference have offered to share their stories so that others can get an idea of what to expect, why it is important, and how you can help. This is one of those stories.
Vice President, University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI)
Two years ago, I received an email from CFI On Campus announcing their annual summer leadership conference. At first, I was hesitant about going because I was the only officer from my campus group, the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers, who would be able to attend. After getting over my fear of going to the conference by myself, I still wasn’t sure if my college budget could handle the cost of getting from Iowa to Amherst. Luckily, travel grants were available and I was able to take advantage of that opportunity.
The conference itself was an incredible experience. Having only been involved in the freethought movement for under a year, I had no idea that there were so many other campus groups and students who shared my passion for advancing secular values and rational inquiry. Sparked by the various talks, I quickly found myself in intellectually stimulating conversations with other students about how best to interact with religious campus groups, how to put on successful events, and how to best promote our message in a productive, yet thought-provoking manner.
Stef in a workshop discussion at the 2010 Leadership Conference
Since that conference, UNIFI has become one of the most successful campus groups in the freethought movement, as well as on our own campus. While we have excellent leadership all around, I know that much of what I have been able to contribute to the group has been shaped by my participation in the Leadership Conference the past two years. Last year, James Croft’s talk on secular service inspired our first ever Out Week, where we gained several new members and raised over $700 for a local food bank. In addition, conversations with other student leaders contributed to the success of our Darwin Week 2012, where we filled over 1200 seats for fifteen on-campus and big-name speakers, including Jamila Bey and Lawrence Krauss.
UNIFI volunteers help pick up debris after a storm
Members plant trees during 24/7 Service Week
Looking back, I can’t say for sure what UNIFI would be like had I not attended that first CFI Student Leadership Conference. While I think we would still be a pretty good group, I don’t think we would have raised $700 for charity or brought in Lawrence Krauss to a crowd so large that we needed an overflow room.
Receiving a travel grant was absolutely crucial in allowing me to attend the conference that ignited my ability to be a strong leader and help guide UNIFI to become one of the most effective campus groups in the movement.
About the Author: Dren Asselmeier
Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour.