Leadership wasn’t necessarily natural for Glendon VanSandt.
His experiences at Arkansas Tech University over the past four years have developed his skills and confidence to the extent that he is the 2022 Jill Lestage Brown Service Leadership Award winner. He will receive the award during ATU spring commencement on Saturday, May 7.
“Leaders aren’t born,” said VanSandt, who is from Kansas, Okla. “They are made. With that, you have to understand yourself before you can know how to lead a group. When I came to Tech, I was very introverted, very quiet and not confident in a lot of my abilities. I’ve realized through self-assessments and the teachings in class that there is a spot for leadership in everyone’s life. I had to push myself out of my shell. My longing to help others has always been there, but the leadership minor has helped me take that longing and understand how to use it. I haven’t grown as a leader as much as I have as a person.”
A member of the Dean’s List in multiple semesters, VanSandt is graduating from Arkansas Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and parks administration and a minor in leadership studies. His choice of degree and university was based upon his love of the outdoors.
“I knew I didn’t want to have an office job,” said VanSandt. “I was talking to a park ranger at a bike race at Hobbs State Park in northwest Arkansas my senior year of high school, and he was hyping up Arkansas Tech so much. He talked about how great the faculty are and the opportunities that come with attending the university. So, that was it. I didn’t apply anywhere else. This was the one spot I was going to go. It was the perfect opportunity for me to grow.”
As he grew, VanSandt began utilizing the lessons he was learning in the classroom to benefit his sphere of influence at Arkansas Tech and beyond.
VanSandt is co-founder and past president of ATU Special Olympics College, which connects ATU students with members of the community who have intellectual disabilities through Unified Sports competitions in football and basketball.
“The social benefits that come with breaking the barriers and stigmas associated with individuals with special needs…seeing that has been the most life-changing aspect of that project,” said VanSandt. “I’ve developed a new realization and appreciation of (the Special Olympians’) abilities. I’ve realized that a lot of the perceived notions of their disabilities are false. I hope in 20 years I will still be involved in Special Olympics in some capacity. I don’t think that aspect of my life will ever go away. I developed a new appreciation for adaptive sports. If someone wants to play football and you don’t have the right equipment to meet their needs, instead of giving up you find ways to make that possible for them.”
VanSandt has also provided leadership for community disc golf tournaments, a youth triathlon and multiple bicycling events, including the Remember the Removal Legacy Association in support of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the River Valley Bike Festival in Arkansas.
“Cycling is one of those things I’ve grown up doing my entire life,” said VanSandt. “In college, my study break was to go to Mount Nebo or Old Post Road Park and ride the trails there. Mountain biking is still going to be in my life. I’ll still be involved with non-profits that build and maintain mountain bike trails. But really, my goal is to provide the best experience for people that I can. Whatever position I find myself in, that’s really the goal. I want to bring people together and build their connection through the outdoors.”
He was prepared to pursue that goal by his faculty mentors in the ATU recreation and park administration program: Dr. Cathi McMahan, Dr. Michael Bradley and Dr. Jay Post.
“The opportunities they create, the effort they put into us as students and the atmosphere they create through their energy is what I have loved,” said VanSandt. “I’ve been able to get far more involved in campus and in my industry than I ever thought I would. It’s because I felt comfortable and pushed to do my best and take chances.”
VanSandt said finding a safe space to take those chances made all the difference.
“Arkansas Tech is a perfect place to fail because there are so many people who will support you and use those failures to build you into a better person,” said VanSandt. “I realized the world isn’t going to end if you make mistakes. That allowed me to say yes to a lot more opportunities to grow and, more importantly, to allow my peers to have better experiences.”
Another mentor who helped create that safe space for VanSandt was Jana Crouch, who works in the ATU Office of Admissions and is involved in the leadership studies program.
“Jana Crouch is one of the all-time biggest mentors in my college experience, starting from the first day I got here on campus and to this day,” said VanSandt. “She is a person who is full of knowledge. It has been seriously the best thing to have someone I can go to with any problems, whether they were school related or not. That has been huge.”
A member of the 2021 ATU Homecoming court, VanSandt has served as president of the ATU Recreation and Parks Club, student representative to the Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association, ATU student ambassador and new student orientation leader.
He plans to attend graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in sustainable tourism.
“The titles…the awards…those things…really don’t have a lot of meaning to me,” said VanSandt. “The most important aspect is being able to make an impact on those around me and potentially inspiring someone else to become a leader. I’ve had so many opportunities to grow as a leader. Arkansas Tech is a small enough campus that everyone feels like family. That is one of the biggest draws for me. It allows for a more genuine experience within the classroom, on campus and in the community.”