Shape of Leadership


Kaylee Cusack

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Business & Public Administration


UND student trailblazers engage with alumni and community leaders during Morrison Leadership Summit

Small groups of business attire-clad UND students scurried around the outer edges of the Gorecki Alumni Center, chatting about visual puns posted to the walls. One young woman pointed to the image of a box of Cheerios with a knife-wielding hand popping out of it.

“Is it ‘serial killer’?” she asked the rest of her group, answered by their approving nods.

This exercise wasn’t just a game—it was a test of the students’ ability to fit their leadership and teamwork skills into a brand new context.

Nearly 70 undergraduate and graduate students gathered on April 19 for the sixth annual Morrison Leadership Summit, an invitation-only networking and development experience organized collaboratively by the UND College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) and the College of Arts and Sciences. Students from both colleges were nominated to attend by faculty and staff who recognized their leadership potential.

“The summit celebrates the concept of leadership and pushes students to think about how they are leaders, and how they can continue to thrive and learn as leaders,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs, who organized the first interactive session of the day.

Once the teams had solved all of the puzzles and returned to their tables, Storrs led a vibrant discussion about what the activity taught them about the importance of shared leadership.

“If you’re a humble and effective leader, you understand you don’t have all of the answers, and you have to able to build a team of leaders,” Storrs told her audience, setting the tone for the remainder of the day’s events.

Town-gown collaboration

The summit coincided with day one of Interim CoBPA Dean Steve Light’s new role with the college.

“I can’t think of a better first day than to have a chance to see students interacting with faculty and with professionals who are out in the field,” Light said. “At UND, we want to promote cross-college and cross-discipline collaboration. This is a perfect example of how you do that, through programming that engages students in ways that promotes those connections.”

“It’s very interdisciplinary,” Storrs added. “At my table, I had students from accounting, marketing, biology, history and communications. These students rarely meet, and at the summit they’re all coming to the table as leaders, hungry for more knowledge, and bringing their own leadership experience and perspective and sharing it.”

Students were not only able to network with those from other majors, but also alumni and friends of the University who have found leadership roles in the community. The summit invited nine business and non-profit leaders to participate in roundtable discussions about their experiences.

“UND’s community is more than just UND,” said Shawn McHale, a junior accounting major from Waconia, Minn. “All of the alumni and amazing people who come to events like this have done so much for UND and us as students, that getting the chance to learn at a personal level from them—what they’ve done, the mistakes they’ve made—is invaluable.”

‘360-degree view’

Following time for lunch and networking, UND President Mark Kennedy delivered a photographic keynote address using personal snapshots of his global travels.

“A submarine is surrounded by water—we’re surrounded by our experiences,” Kennedy said, the image of a submarine behind him. “Those activities shape how we view the world. Just as a submarine has a periscope that gives a 360 degree view around it so it doesn’t bump into anything and can go the direction it wants, we too need to cultivate a 360 degree environment.”

Kennedy explained the power shapeholders (regulators, the media, social and political activists, etc.) hold over the reputation and progress of organizations, and how good leadership can avoid potential conflicts.

“Most businesses … say, ‘These politicians, these activists, these reporters—they just don’t understand me.’ And that’s true. But most business leaders don’t understand politicians or activists or reporters themselves,” Kennedy said.

Man of the hour

It wouldn’t be a Morrison Leadership Summit without the powerful presence of the namesake himself. Dale Morrison took the stage to roaring applause, and was unable to hide his delight for the day.

“I always get so excited to see all of the young faces here,” he told the crowd. “With everything that I do that’s associated with the University of North Dakota, the highlight is always, always, always the interaction with the students.”

Morrison is a CoBPA alumnus and co-founder of the private equity firm TriPointe Capital Partners. He also currently serves as chairman of the UND Center for Innovation Foundation.

The first Morrison Leadership Summit was held in 2012, established with a generous endowment from McCain Foods, where Morrison served as president and CEO for seven years. Before McCain Foods, Morrison held notable roles with General Foods, PepsiCo and Campbell Soup Company.

And since the beginning, he has never missed a summit.

“Learning the foundational skills, academic skills, experiential skills that you are learning as you’re on this journey at the University of North Dakota is critically important,” Morrison said. “But on top of that, I think that good leadership can be an additional differentiator.”

In reflection of the day, Storrs smiled as she said, “I’m in awe of the kind of leaders we have on campus. Our students are focused, they are multitasking and they are kinetic.”

And as one of those students, McHale knows that he has a responsibility to take this experience beyond the summit’s walls. “By going to events like this with people who are committed to bettering themselves, we are going to have better leadership in the future.”