Chapters come together for first ever Student Leadership Conference

“I believe it was a great success and helped lay a strong foundation for the society’s future. Being in D.C. with other chapter leaders helped me realize our potential.  It has become clear to me that this is not simply a discussion group educating college students.  JQA offers a platform for individual growth in one’s career ambitions and community involvement.” Wills Hay, University of Mississippi chapter

The John Quincy Adams Society held its first ever student leadership conference for new and rising chapter leaders on July 11-13, 2018 in Washington. Twenty-five students from eighteen universities had the opportunity to learn about foreign policy, develop leadership skills, and learn more about international affairs careers. This is the first chance we’ve had to hold an event with such a diverse range of colleges represented and to develop the Society as an authentic, organically connected network of rising national security professionals. Thanks to this conference, we are currently in a better position going into the semester than we ever have been before.

The conference kicked off on the evening of July 11. Our student leaders mingled with members of the Society’s growing DC professional network at a special edition of our Knowledge and Networking series. They heard a talk on intelligence and foreign policy from JQA Society Board of Advisors member Dr. Paul R. Pillar, formerly the top U.S. intelligence officer for the Middle East.

The next morning, the Society’s executive director, John Allen Gay, kicked things off with a talk on the organization’s broader vision of transforming the national discourse on foreign policy. Gay highlighted the high and rising price of the post-Cold War drift into ill-conceived and often unnecessary conflicts abroad, and urged students to be the generation that uses a more serious and measured global approach. Several sessions of intensive campus leadership training followed, led by Northern Regional Director Kerby Davis and Southern Regional Director John Goodnight.

The afternoon focused on the leaders’ intellectual growth. They heard about the underpinnings of a grand strategy of restraint from University of Notre Dame professor Eugene Gholz, followed by a deep dive into Persian Gulf/oil security issues with Professor Rosemary Kelanic, also of Notre Dame. Next came a talk by Gay on the Society’s nonpartisan approach and its emphasis on including voices from across the political spectrum around the common purpose of a more prudent foreign policy. Leaders then got to witness this in action with a panel featuring Kate Kizer of the progressive group Win Without War and Kurt Couchman of the right-leaning Defense Priorities Foundation.

The conference also featured career development, including a talk on the subject by Gay and a happy hour where students got the opportunity to speak with professionals currently in several foreign policy professions, including think tanks, the State Department, academia, the military, and the media. Many of the chapter leadership sessions featured skills that are applicable long after graduation, too.

On the afternoon of July 13, our conference merged with a much larger cohort of students (150+) from the Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Economics and International Affairs cohort for a symposium on foreign policy. This section of the conference kicked off with a debate on American grand strategy between Gholz and Georgetown professor Robert Lieber. Next came a panel on constitutional and legal issues in U.S. foreign policy, featuring comments from Cato Institute scholars Gene Healy and Christopher Preble, Couchman, and Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas – Austin and the law blog Just Security. Students then learned about the economics of U.S. foreign policy from a panel that featured Gholz, Harvard war cost expert Linda Bilmes, defense budget experts Rebecca Heinrich (Hudson Institute) and Lindsay Koshgarian (National Priorities Project), and George Mason University economist/JQA Society Board of Advisors member Christopher Coyne. This section of the conference closed with a panel on U.S.-Russia relations featuring Rajan Menon of the City College of New York, David Satter (a Hudson Institute journalist who had been expelled from Russia in 2013), Paul Saunders of the Center for the National Interest, and Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.

The enthusiasm throughout the conference was palpable. This was a turning point in the Society’s history – and for these talented young leaders. You can help send more students to next year’s conference here.

“As a new chapter leader, the JQA Conference in DC thoroughly prepared me for the responsibilities of chapter leadership and introduced me to a network of passionate colleagues who demonstrated to me the many reasons why JQA is and will continue to be a critical player in foreign policy discussion on campus and in the world.” Elizabeth Carter, University of Georgia chapter