By Shelby Procko, Contributing Writer
McKendree Senior Robert Watkins is both the president and founder of the McKendree chapter of Sigma Alpha Phi, also known as The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS). He is a business administration major with a minor in leadership studies. When asked what he planned to do with his degree after graduation in December he shrugged and said, “I have no idea, I am still trying to figure that out.” Grinning, he added, “If you figure it out, let me know.” Rob is active in numerous other roles on campus including student government president, peer mentor, a job working in the IT department, and an intern for the Student Success Center doing data organization. He used to play for the McKendree Men’s Volleyball team but decided to sit his last year out since he will be graduating before the season begins.
Rob graduated from Lyons Township High School in La Grange in 2014. He has his own handyman business called Rent-a-Rob back in Chicago where his family lives. He began by doing small maintenance jobs because he needed some extra money while home during the summer and he “liked the idea of being my own boss.” Rob gets his entrepreneurial spirit from his parents. His mother is a family lawyer with her own practice. His father is a retired fire-paramedic and runs a business as a CPR certifier for local companies as well as certifying health care professionals in ACLS (advanced cardiovascular life support) and PALS (Pediatric advanced life support).
Rob’s passion for helping other students grow both personally and professionally is evident in his activities. It is a trait he likely inherited from his mother who dedicates her practice to doing what is best for the kids involved in her cases. “She really cares about the children,” Rob said smiling. It is his dedication to others that led him to begin the NSLS here at McKendree. The NSLS is not like most honor societies; it is a comprehensive program designed to develop students into leaders and is the nation’s largest leadership society with 797,563 members at 581 colleges nationwide. I asked Rob why he chose this program specifically and he told me that he had heard about it through a high school friend who is chapter president at his own university. When Rob looked up the society, he saw that there were two ways to begin a chapter: as a student and as an administrator. The student option is recognized as an internship by universities and Rob thought, “I can do this.”
What struck him about this program was that it teaches its members communication skills and how to build goals and find their own strengths. You can join and get some of the benefits like discounts and access to scholarships, but if you put effort into it and go to the chapter events and become a fully inducted member, then more benefits become available. “I believe that nothing good is easy,” he said, adding, “it takes hard work.” The program is open to all students and is not limited by degree, major, or activity. He liked that he could have a mix of athletes and non-athletes. Rob believes that the program is a crucial way to network. Rob and his executive board have set the parameters of students invited into the Mck Chapter. He wanted the program to target students who may not have the highest GPA but had strong leadership skills and potential, so he began with the lower end of the GPA range he set. Next, he selected students that were Seniors because he wanted to allow those close to graduation the opportunity to develop skills he believes to be extremely important for success. 150 invitations were sent out, but there are only about 50 active members.
Beginning this program is a testament to Rob’s dedication. The course of development took him nearly two years. He had to go through an extensive interview process, fly to New Jersey for training, acquire student information, and gain faculty assistance. Rob wants to leave a lasting impression in the lives of fellow McKendree students. During his new student orientation the speaker talked about “making their mark,” and Rob took her seriously. He is committed to spending his time here at McKendree doing his best to make a lasting impression.
Rob may not know exactly what he wants to do when he graduates, but he certainly has a strong foundation for his future. The week of Oct 8th, Rob interned in Brussels with the International Leadership Association at their 19th Annual Global Conference. Upon returning, the NSLS will launch into several activities and meetings designed to allow members to become fully inducted into the society. That also includes Rob, who is taking the journey with his new members. Rob is an excellent example for other students by demonstrating how to make a difference on and off campus.