Alumna Sheyvette Dinkens selected for LK Class of 2022
Among programs in the state, Leadership Kansas is the oldest and most prestigious — and it rarely includes representatives from the southwest quadrant. Sarah Thompson, Seward County Community College Associate Director of Annual Giving, is out to change that.
“I was a member of the Leadership Kansas class of 2020, which was right in the middle of the pandemic,” she said. “That meant our seven sessions in different areas of the state were modified and moved around — so much that I ended up participating in parts of the class of 2021 sessions, and helped with the Southwest Kansas session for that group.”
Thompson, who earned her spot in Leadership Kansas after being nominated by a previous participant, described the application process as “extremely competitive. The only way to get in is to be nominated, and then fill out an application. This year, they received more than 600 nominations for only 40 spots.” Many participants are accepted into the program only after repeated applications over a period of years.
This year, Thompson was elated to learn that two of her nominees made the final cut: Ryan Ruda of Garden City and Sheyvette Dinkens, a Liberal native and alumna of SCCC.
“Ryan and I went to college at Fort Hays, so I nominated him even though I had to overlook the fact that he’s not a Saint,” she explained (Ruda is president of Garden City Community College). “With Sheyvette, I’m thrilled that she is in the class and that she’s connected to Seward. She’s a real firecracker, and always working to make the world a better place. She’s one of our outstanding alumni.”
Thompson said Leadership Kansas is distinguished from other civic engagement programs by its wider-lens view of the state.
“You get a lot of knowledge from it, learn about different regions of Kansas and the different industries,” she said. “It’s also a great chance to network. To me, that was the best thing about it. The friendships and business connections are just unreal.”
Established by the Kansas Chamber Education Foundation more than 50 years ago, the program aims to serve as a catalyst for statewide leadership development. The long-term vision is to inspire participants to maintain involvement in the social, business, and political fabric of the state, and create a powerful network of leaders.
Program participants attend an orientation and six required sessions, each three consecutive days in different parts of the state. Tuition of $2,500 per participant covers the program and meals, but lodging and travel are the responsibility of the individual. Financial assistance for half the cost is available, and, Thompson noted, many employers are willing to foot the bill for the remainder.
Thompson said the experience is well worth the cost.
“It broadens your understanding of what’s possible for your own community and interests, and it creates so many opportunities,” she said. “In my group, several western Kansas people were included, but only two people lived west of Hutchinson. We talked a lot about the differences, from water supply to health care access to diversity. Western Kansas always has a heavy emphasis on diversity, which I love, and which really sets us apart. Eastern Kansas folks don’t realize we have this kind of diversity, and it’s really eye-opening for them.”
Those lightbulb moments often transform long-term perspectives, and spark lasting friendships. For Thompson, getting to know people who were the mayors of their towns, elected officials, and company CEOs “made me think more about what I can do in my own community.” Her decision to run for — and win — a spot on the USD 480 school board was prompted in part by her experiences at Leadership Kansas.
“It had an impact on me. I don’t have children, but our local school system affects my job here at the college and our community as a whole. All of us have a vested interest in making our community what we want it to be,” she said.
Her nomination of Dinkens flowed from admiration for the Liberal native’s commitment to social and civic engagement.
“She has the same mindset as I do,” said Thompson. “If there’s an injustice, she takes it upon herself to do something to change things. I love that about her. She’s got a heart of gold, and she is not afraid to take on a challenge.”
Dinkens, who currently teaches business and entrepreneurship to high school students in the Kansas City school district, was one of 50 alumni honored during the college’s 50th anniversary year.
She will return to this part of the state when Leadership Kansas holds its May 18 session in Garden City and Liberal.
“I came back for induction into the Hall of Saints but I’m excited to take a wider look at the area,” Dinkens said. “I graduated and left in 2004, so it’s been a while. I expect there have been some shifts.”
Overall, she is excited to absorb the lessons the entire state offers through Leadership Kansas.
“This will actually be my third leadership program; I was part of programs in Wyandotte and the Greater Topeka area. The thing about this one is that you have a wide variety of professionals throughout the state. You learn about things from different places,” she said. “I’m very excited to bring those things back to my classroom, and increase collaboration between education and business, my students and the wider world.”
Thompson said she’s inspired by the work Dinkens does in the metro Kansas City area, “even though I wish we could persuade her to come back to Liberal,” she said. “I’m convinced that we need to keep nominating people from this area for Leadership Kansas in order to help our community grow and flourish. Building that network is really powerful for economic development and community engagement.”