Student leaders from Missouri's colleges learned about leadership in an unlikely place this week while attending the Governor's Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values.
Their itinerary said "tour" of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. Who they met were leaders who had made poor decisions in life.
"It was humbling to understand these prisoners with great leadership skills had made poor choices," said Lincoln University senior Walter Hood, from East St. Louis, Ill.
Fellow Lincoln student Miera Mondaine, a freshman from Jefferson City, agreed, "It was an eye opener."
The 70 students were introduced to several other leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, for three days at the 27th annual forum.
But the leaders who may have made the biggest impact were the students themselves.
"It has been a time for self-reflection," Hood said. "When you have a better sense of self, you can be a better influence on the student body."
The focus on faith and values created an atmosphere of vulnerability and trust as the youth shared personal struggles and solutions in their work on their respective campuses.
Mondaine and her roommate both were invited to the forum. But they were not placed in the same small group.
"I felt like we had to open up, in a good way," she said.
Hood agreed, "In the small groups, we talked about our personal experiences. I think that's more impactful."
Jonathan Jackson, a Lincoln sophomore from Kansas City, said he intends to be more of a "selfless" leader in the coming semester. And Wood will be developing a "forgiving heart."
"I was relieved to come here and be myself," Jackson said. "At other conferences or on campus, sometimes you put on a show to represent your school.
"This weekend has been an oasis for leaders."
The Lincoln leaders did take advantage of a private reception with the governor the first night, where they asked how the university and the community could build better rapport.
"He said things are coming," Jackson said. "I was excited to hear that."
At the annual Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning, the college students served as ushers and helped collect the donations to the Samaritan Center at the end of the event.
"It's quite a crew," he said. "When you stack that up on 25 years of servant leadership, it makes a huge, huge impact on communities throughout the state."
Local businessman Clyde Lear organized the event for the first-time under Gov. John Ashcroft. Local businessmen and civic leaders continue to host the forum, using the life of Jesus as a model of servant leadership.
"This forum looked at us as leaders through what we believe in," Hood said.