It’s not often that you discover an Army Colonel facilitating a round table discussion on “Sailing Uncertain Waters,” but that’s exactly where Col. M. Straus Scantlin, Director, Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG), U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) found himself February 9-13, 2021.
Scantlin, a Houston, Texas native and self-proclaimed “Aggie,” was selected as one of a handful of facilitators for the 66th Annual Memorial Student Center Student Conference on National Affairs (MSC SCONA) at his alma mater, Texas A&M.
The Memorial Student Center is dedicated to being the epicenter of student development and leadership learning. MSC SCONA is an annual collegiate conference organized by the student leadership to bring together student delegates from across the nation and the world in support of their mission to shape the leaders of tomorrow.
“Sailing Uncertain Waters” was an apt name given this year of pandemic, presidential inauguration and major policy shifts, and as a facilitator for the event, Scantlin had a front row seat to the hard work and dedication needed to create this elite environment. Developed to give delegates the chance to interact with the nation’s premier academic scholars, industry professionals, and well-known public figures, this event is world class.
“The student organizers plan and work for almost 12-months to create an annual collegiate conference that brings together student delegates from across the campus, state, nation, and world, introducing them to topics that range from great power competition to global public health,” explained Scantlin. “The student delegates work together to understand, think, and understand the national and international topics that immediately and directly affect us. Their thought and work improves them as students and future leaders for their country.”
Scantlin is uniquely positioned to understand leader development. As the director of Strategic Initiatives for USACAPOC (A), he works hand in hand with some of the Army’s most qualified subject matter experts in Civil Affairs and he is always on the lookout to influence or recruit new talent.
“MSC SCONA is very important to the Army Reserve,” enthused Scantlin. “These students are the future leaders, thinkers, and doers of the U.S. and the world. Most of the delegates are not ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) contracted to the active component and there is an outreach opportunity for the Army Reserve to bring some of these outgoing, informed students into our organization.
“If some of the participants join the U.S. Army Reserve and bring these experiences with them, they will be better prepared than their peers for thinking through and around the complex, challenging national security issues we face now and in will face in the future,” he concluded.
In or out of uniform, this event is designed to expose students to current issues and senior leaders like Scantlin from various career fields. Experts in fields ranging from national security and diplomacy, to medicine and technology were present.
This year, delegates listened to and interacted with key-note speakers from the senior levels of government and innovative medical professors: Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Commander of Marine Corps Recruiting, a former CIA officer, and a medical researcher.
The event is far from passive listening though. As a facilitator, Scantlin isn’t there to say “this is what you should do,” he’s there to guide them in their discoveries.
“I facilitated a round-table of students from Texas A&M University and other schools,” said Scantlin.” My role was not to give them a solution, but to coach and guide them through a process to identify and understand a problem within a topic area, and coach them through writing a policy proposal. I asked questions to help them identify gaps in their understanding, guided their discussions, and more importantly, let them talk with each other and work out their ideas themselves.”
It's a unique approach to learning. College is often designed to have students absorb material and respond in a semi-passive manner through a paper or project while MSC SCONA is very collaborative.
“I am always impressed with what the students can do when you step back and let them plan and lead,” said Scantlin. “They don’t know it but they are executing mission command and the result is excellent. The MSC SCONA program is really designed to produce better-prepared students and graduates. These delegates have learned how to look at a problem from various points of view, listen to a diverse team, collaborate on a problem and solution, and reach a consensus and the benefactors are the peoples, not only in the United States, but across the globe.”
Not content to just act as a mentor, Scantlin also considers the MSC SCONA as an opportunity to view the world from a different perspective.
“These students from all over the country are much more aware of the global connectedness than I was as a student,” he commented.
Participating for a third year, this is an event that Scantlin is thrilled to be associated with.
“An invitation back to Texas A&M is always a welcomed surprise. Aggieland is my home and giving back is an honor,” he enthused. “This year's SCONA was the second time I've met children or grandchildren of SCONA participants. It reminds me that everyone is connected to everyone else just a few short steps away,” he concluded.