For 17-year-old Will McKinney, the future is becoming much clearer following his participation in the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security in Washington, D.C.
“It was an awesome experience,” the Mercer County Senior High School junior said of his trip.
The forum, which lasted six days from Oct. 9-14, was created to expose students to prospective careers in defense, intelligence and the diplomatic corps. Attendees were given the opportunity to meet with and listen to professionals from those fields.
John Sano, a former deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, was McKinney’s favorite speaker. He says Sano’s talk, as well as the entire experience, opened his mind to possible jobs he could pursue.
“It opened my eyes to plenty of opportunities in the government with aerospace engineering,” McKinney said, explaining that one day, he would like to be an aerospace engineer and has always had some interest in pursuing a job in defense.
There also was a career fair held for the students to attend and colleges were on hand recruiting. McKinney explained that one school, George Mason University, offered transferable college credit to those who attended the forum.
“Another school I am looking at, Embry Riddle (Aeronautical University) was there,” he said.
Students also were forced to rely upon critical thinking and leadership skills to work through mock situations to experience what professionals face in these crises.
“On the last day, Friday, we had a simulation where everyone had a role,” he explained.
McKinney, who also practices his leadership and teamwork skills on the Mercer County football and track teams, and through his church youth group, explained his group was forced to work through a scenario involving a Mexican drug cartel.
When McKinney first heard about the forum, he was a bit doubtful, because it sounded too good to be true, and he was concerned it might be. However, his teachers convinced him this was the “real deal,” and, with the support of his parents, Chris and Andee McKinney, he says he decided to apply for the forum.
He doesn’t regret that decision and encourages others to check it out as well.
“Anybody that has an opportunity to go should go,” McKinney said.
SO YOU KNOW
NYLF was founded in 1992 and hosts a variety of forums,
including those relating to law, medical, and national security fields. Students are selected based on nomination, although applications are accepted. To learn more, visit nylf.org.