By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer
Portales High School senior Christian Townsend helped represent New Mexico at a recent 2009 Congressional Student Leadership Conference.
The conference was July 20-25 at Catholic University in Washington D.C.
“While we were there we were given lectures from people who were former heads of the state department,” Townsend said. “As well as current operatives within the defense intelligence agency. I learned quite a lot from those people and their experiences.”
He said one of the highlights of the trip was a limited tour of the CIA headquarters.
Townsend said his group operated as a governmental agency, and spent the week in a simulated conflict. Townsend, who directed the mock Department of Homeland Security, said the simulation didn’t turn out so well, and it made him appreciate the people who do the work for real.
“One example was a miscommunication with the Department of State (which sent) an ultimatum to a country that was holding our diplomat hostage,” he said. “That small miscommunication … sparked a war.”
Townsend and the other students at the conference got to tour the Quantico Marine Corps Base, CIA headquarters, the helicopters that are part of the Marine One fleet, the Pentagon and the museum of the Marine Corps.
“We offer programs that are life changing experiences for our students,” said Brian Robertson, senior admissions councilor for the sponsoring agency, Lead America. “For the most part we give them a curriculum for an enhanced understanding of a particular field.”
Robertson said whether they are in aviation, medicine or health care, the leadership curriculum helps students earn college credit, develop a greater self-confidence, self-esteem and gain a sense of purpose.
Students going through this program learn leadership skills, such as effective communication, conflict resolution, team building, time management, negotiation and public speaking.
“With the career-focused conferences, students get a chance to solidify that dream of whatever they are aspiring to be,” Robertson said. “Or maybe (students) learn that this is not the field for them and save the parents $50,000 (when they realize before college they don’t) want to be a doctor.”
Townsend has been involved in speech and debate since he has been in high school. When he graduates from high school, he plans to enter the Marine Corps and work in the intelligence department.
His speech and debate teacher Becky Walker said he found his niche in the student congress of the National Forensics League.
“He is a very good student and has taken off on debate,” Walker said. “He just found what he wanted to do in the National Forensics League and been very dedicated to it.”