Leadership by Association

by Bethany Wagner

When Max Walden ’16 stepped across the stage to receive his diploma last May, he joined a legacy of leaders serving throughout the nation in multiple fields with one unique common trait—they all developed their leadership skills and discovered their potential to disciple as presidents of Azusa Pacific’s Student Government Association (SGA), formerly the Associated Student Body (ASB).

SGA presidents play a vital role at APU, articulating the concerns and needs of nearly 6,000 undergraduate students and leading 25 elected student officials. As president for the 2015-16 academic year, Walden facilitated conversations with students, met with teams across campus to present student needs, and worked with the Board of Trustees to make changes. “Student presidents actively hone their skills as our administrators disciple them toward their true potential as leaders,” said President Jon R. Wallace, DBA, SGA president from 1975-76. “Looking back over my career, I can see hints of my calling to leadership in my SGA presidency. The experience forges leaders and guides many students toward a calling in leadership across disciplines beyond APU.”

Case in point: Adam Ecklund, Ph.D. As an undergraduate student at APU, he pursued church ministry until Terry Franson, Ph.D., senior vice president for student life/dean of students, encouraged him to run for SGA president.

During his 2000-02 term, Ecklund came to see serving college students as a form of ministry. Today, he maintains relationships with thousands of alumni as associate vice president of constituent engagement at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “I saw I could disciple the world’s future teachers, engineers, doctors, pastors, lawyers—people who will impact the world for Christ,” he said. Ecklund encourages Walden to recognize the blessings of his unique opportunity.

“I didn’t realize how influential the connections and discipleship from the administration and Board of Trustees would prove. Hold onto the wisdom and experience you gained from working with such godly leaders.”

The APU board also influenced the career of Jill (McIntosh ’98) Robbins, a successful lawyer and mother in Susanville, California, though she admits to being terrified the first time she attended a meeting with the board as SGA president in 1996. “I met with about 25 established professionals who valued my input and believed I could lead on their level—I didn’t want to let them down,” she said. “By the end of my tenure, I felt right at home with the board members, and they taught me to listen and voice my opinions with people from all walks of life.” From that experience, she urges Walden: “Don’t compromise, but continue with the same conviction that you had from day one of your SGA campaign in pursuing God’s calling.”

Robbins practices what she preaches, at work and in her home. “I strive to lead my kids, training them up in the way they should go,” she said. “I want to raise them in Christ through education, relationships, and service, always asking what they can do to help others.”

“What can I do to help?” Tiffany Porter ’06, founder and principal of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Scholar Academy in Los Angeles, frequently asked this question of Wallace during her term as SGA president in 2005--06. Wallace’s response gave her confidence in her own abilities and a sense of responsibility: “If it needs to be done, then you should do it.”

A decade later, Porter saw a severe lack of quality education in Los Angeles, and in response, she founded a charter school for underserved children. Today, hundreds of teachers and students look to Porter for leadership. “I learned how to set clear vision and developed confidence in trailblazing,” said Porter, who developed many initiatives centered on diversity and reconciliation, among other issues, during her time as SGA president. “The APU administration and staff saw leadership potential in me and took time and effort to nurture it.”

Walden looks back on the legacies of Wallace, Ecklund, Robbins, and Porter as he leans into work within the computer software industry in Kansas City, Missouri, where he collaborates with teams of employees, communicates with clients, and manages multiple projects at once—skills he developed during his SGA presidency. “It’s a joy and privilege to be noted on the long list of such impressive individuals,” he said. “Though my tenure as president is over, the ideals and goals that motivated me then continue to push me now.”