BROWNWOOD – April 10, 2019 – Howard Payne University welcomed more than 200 student representatives to campus in January for the 2019 Christian Association of Student Leaders (CASL) conference. CASL was formed in 1998 by the Texas Baptist universities and is hosted each year by one of those institutions. CASL is designed to develop and strengthen college students in their campus leadership roles and relationships with Christ. This year’s event was coordinated by a student committee organized and assisted by Dr. Magen Bunyard, vice president for student life and dean of students.
“Our HPU students did a wonderful job of prayerfully and thoughtfully selecting all the elements of the conference including speakers, roundtable discussion and workshop topics, meals, activities and the schedule,” she said. “I am very thankful for their hard work and commitment to making decisions that honored God and helped equip their peers for excellence in service. They fulfilled their roles with exceptional enthusiasm and dedication and we had a lot of fun in the process.”
Members of the CASL committee were Keith Baker of Houston; Caleb Kostreva of Clifton, Colorado; Spencer Wolverton of DeSoto; Foga’a Solomona-Afoa of Pearl City, Hawaii; Sawyer Fisher of Bertram, who served as the conference coordinator; and Emma Reed of Arlington, who served as president of the association.
“CASL is awesome because it brings people together who do similar things on different campuses and helps them see areas that are the same,” said Emma Reed, senior family studies and Guy D. Newman Honors Academy major. “They can be encouraged by similar struggles and successes.”
The CASL conference exists to encourage student leaders to collaborate with one another for the betterment of their campuses. Accomplishing this is no small task – for over a year, the members of the CASL committee participated in a planning process that required both detailed decision making and big-picture perspective.
“It entailed a lot,” said Caleb Kostreva, senior social sciences and Guy D. Newman Honors Academy major. “We planned everything from the snack bags, to how the main sessions were going to look, to the schedule of the conference as a whole.”
Each member of the committee attended a CASL conference at another institution at least once prior to or during the course of the committee’s planning. Some of the committee members were able to develop friendships with student from other schools through their CASL attendance. For Sawyer Fisher, senior business administration major, this has been an important part of his CASL experience and something he will miss after graduation.
“My favorite part about CASL is that you start building these friendships through the conference,” he said. “It’s cool to see what gifts God has given them to use for the kingdom. It’s also beneficial just to see that every campus struggles in some aspect. The whole point of CASL is just getting together and sharing ideas with others. I’m going to miss CASL – I miss it already.”
Foga’a Solomona-Afoa, junior athletic training major, said attendance at previous CASL conferences also gave insight to the committee’s decision-making process.
“I have been able to attend CASL every year since I was a freshman and every year was a learning opportunity,” she said. “It was our past experiences that helped us plan out the conference to the smallest details.”
One of the major decisions the committee had to make was what the theme for CASL 2019 would be. They chose “Empower,” highlighting the importance of discipleship among students.
“We emphasized discipleship, because we knew a lot of schools have great student leaders, but after they graduate there’s nobody else to step up,” said Spencer Wolverton, senior communication major. “That was our goal – to help teach students about intentional conversation, creating relationships and passing down information to enable others.”
Throughout the conference, students were able to engage in roundtable discussions. This consisted of two individuals from each institution representing specific areas on campus.
“Different schools are able to come together and discuss different experiences,” said Keith Baker, junior studio art major. “We can say, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea’ or ‘we struggle with that too.’ Finding a solution together gives a sense of community, even though we’re from different schools.”
Conference attendees went to breakout sessions where they listened to members of HPU staff speak on topics such as social media usage, self-care and perseverance. Students also heard from guest speaker Keith Weiser, pastor of Resonate Church in Washington and Church Planting Catalyst for the Northwest Baptist Convention, who used the theme verse of Philippians 2:3-4 as a foundation for Christ-like leadership, which empowers others to serve well.
“The main sessions and conversations in the roundtable discussions provide awesome opportunities for people to have these eye-opening experiences, and then bring what they’ve learned back to their campuses,” said Caleb Kostreva.
The committee members also planned a unique and new experience on Friday night that provided an opportunity for the student leaders to participate in service together. In partnership with Good Samaritan Ministries, the students painted bowls for the Empty Bowls Project, an annual event that raises funds to fight hunger and food insecurity both locally and globally.
“Dr. Bunyard said they’ve been talking about doing a service project since CASL was created, but they couldn’t figure out a way to do one with 250 people,” said Emma Reed. “This is the first time anything like that has been implemented. People liked that we made it really personal.”
The CASL committee members expressed pride in their hard work and were grateful for a successful conference.
“It was cool to be able to watch other people get to enjoy the CASL experience and to see all the work and the time that we put into it come to fruition,” said Reed. “I’m proud of the experience that we were able to give people. We just showed them the family atmosphere that we have at Howard Payne by the way that we took them all in and loved them.”
Cutline: Senior Emma Reed introduces members of the CASL committee at the 2019 CASL conference hosted by HPU.