Niagara University freshman Kevin Schwindler introduces former Buffalo Bills special teams ace Steve Tasker during a National Academy Foundation conference on March 8.

Approximately 265 high school sophomores filed into the Millennium Buffalo on March 8 to attend the first-ever multi-school student conference for local National Academy Foundation participants. The students represented 13 high schools (and 14 NAF academies) in Erie and Niagara counties.

Organized like a typical business conference, replete with breakout and workshop sessions, the event’s intent was to prepare the students for their college and professional careers. The students networked with each other during a mixer and attended a plenary session on social intelligence led by former British butler John Bourdage. The students then chose two breakout sessions from a menu of 14 workshops that were presented by business and secondary education partners.

The culminating event was a luncheon and keynote address by Buffalo Bills great Steve Tasker. Kevin Schwindler, a graduate of the NAF program at Clarence High School and president of the freshman class at Niagara University, had the privilege to introduce Tasker.

Tasker spoke candidly to the students about leadership and success, and related his speech to his experiences as a professional football player and intern at WKBW-TV Channel 7. His message to the students was that the “best player” has to motivate his/her teammates by showing a willingness to carry out tasks that nobody else wants to.

Leadership is not leading a group, Tasker said, but having others want to “join” the group, and that success comes after a person has developed the knowledge and skills to succeed. Following the luncheon, the students were able to have their photos taken with Tasker.

The conference was organized as part of an initiative by the Western New York NAF Regional Advisory Board and sponsored by a grant from State Farm Insurance. The WNY NAF Regional Advisory Board is a collaborative group of business partners and educators that represent 13 school districts across the region. The board’s intent is to provide students with experiences and opportunities that prepare them to be college and career ready.

Christine Schwartz, associate director of continuing education and coordinator of the Niagara University Senior Term Enrichment Program, chaired the conference committee.

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