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Attendees at West Coast Leadership Conference

More than 100 alumni attended the West Coast Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, held March 14-16. Photo by Stan Borinski '90.

True confessions of West Coast 'volunteer-olics'

"I am a volunteer-olic," Bart Mills '64, announced at the West Coast Leadership Conference (WCLC) held in Los Angeles March 14-16.

Anne DiGiacomo, Jadey Huray, Casey Phlegar and Charlie Phlegar

From left, Anne DiGiacomo '80, Jadey Huray '14, Casey Phlegar '15 and Charlie Phlegar, Cornell vice president for alumni affairs and development. Photo by Stan Borinski '90.

"I can't stop saying yes to opportunities to serve Cornell. It's insidious and all-consuming -- help!" he continued. "Even after I got the Frank H.T. Rhodes Distinguished Alumni award a few years ago, I couldn't stop volunteering. I'm here not just to confess my weakness for strengthening Cornell, but also to introduce some other volunteer-olics, who will lead a discussion on how to intensify this condition."

Mills' remarks illustrate why more than 100 alumni spent the weekend at WCLC, an event modeled after Cornell's successful 2011 Asian Leadership Conference. The West Coast is home to 31,000 Cornellians. The weekend featured faculty lectures, alumni volunteer panels, a visit to Fox Studios, a scavenger hunt and plenty of networking.

Anne Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, welcomed alumni and spoke about "Cornell University Library in the Age of Amazon and Google."

"Contrary to what people might think," she said, "I think we may be looking at the renaissance of research libraries. Balancing the need for special collections with solid and enthusiastic knowledge management and intellectual property maintenance has never been more important or all-encompassing."

Donna Lavallee and Adrienne Marco at Fox Studios

Donna Lavallee '77, left, and Adrienne Marco during a visit to Fox Studios. Photo by Stan Borinski '90.

She noted that Cornell University Library aspires to be one of the nation's 10 leading research libraries and spoke about the need for consistent funding, saying, "Every year funding is flat, we cancel $800,000 in new materials." She described how Cornell has entered into collaborations with other universities, such as the 2CUL partnership with Columbia University Library.

Charlie Phlegar, vice president for alumni affairs and development (AAD), provided an update on what's happening on campus and credited trustee emeritus Curtis Reis '56, who died in February, with being a driving force behind the WCLC. "We will continue to expand here," Phlegar said.

Anne DiGiacomo '80, AAD senior director and sesquicentennial project manager, spoke about plans for eight major Cornell sesquicentennial celebrations around the world, including events in San Francisco and Los Angeles in March 2015. Noting that "Cornellians tend to be humble," DiGiacomo charged the audience to "be noisy, be proud of ourselves and talk a little more."

Nancy Abrams Dreier and Susan Cheng-Looi

Nancy Abrams Dreier '86, left, and Susan Cheng-Looi '82 at the West Coast Leadership Conference. Photo by Stan Borinski '90.

Jim Detert, associate professor of management and organizations at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, energized the audience with his talk on "How We Teach About Ethics and Principled Leadership Out of the Dark Ages."

Samuel Bacharach, the McKelvey-Grant Professor of Organizational Behavior in the ILR School, gave the keynote talk, "Leading for Change and Innovation." "When it comes to good ideas," he noted, "creativity is not the problem. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Leadership is the problem. How do we take creative people and make sure something happens with their creativity? Heroes are not the answer. We need leaders throughout an organization."

Speaking after his talk, Bacharach added: "People think they can immediately recognize a leader, but that excludes people. You're often driven by cultural stereotypes." Instead, he suggested, "Recognize leaders by how they deliver and how they keep people's support. You don't want someone who delivers and leaves scorched earth behind them. With some core knowledge, the average person can lead. We have to make leadership a skill we can all master, rather than a gift that's given."

The volunteer portion of the conference featured two programs, "Thoughtful Leadership," led by alumni-elected trustee Rana Glasgal '87 and Cornell University Council member Diane Shakin '83, and "Enriched Leadership through Inclusion," with trustee and chair of Cornell Mosaic Sheryl Hilliard Tucker '78, trustee emeritus Mort Bishop '74, Cornell Club of Los Angeles President Erin Flinn and Cornell University Council member Eva Sage-Gavin '80.

A dozen members of the Cornell Club of San Diego drove to the conference. "We're trying to get more people involved," David Polley '09 explained. Jenny Craig '08, a Cornell Club of Los Angeles board member, said: "I had a good experience at [the Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference] in Boston this year, and I wanted to get more insight into what I can do to help young alumni find direction when they come to the West Coast."

Former Cornell Club of Los Angeles President John Melissinos '86 said: "I'm here because I've never been to an event like this. … My children are out of diapers and my 30th reunion is coming up. I was just emailing with three of my Cornell buddies in three different cities. It's time for me to re-engage."

Anna Kharbas '91, president of Cornell NorCal, said: "For me, the relationship building and networking is always what is the best at these events."

"I wanted to meet the bigger organization," said Ting Phonsanam '95. "Sometimes in Seattle we feel isolated, especially with affinity groups. I wanted to share practices. Coming here has been very energizing."

The conference was so successful that Phlegar promised another West Coast Leadership Conference in 2016.

Nancy Mills '64 is secretary of the Cornell Club of Los Angeles, former CCLA president and emeritus member of the President's Council of Cornell Women.

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