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An Intern's Reflection on the SSA New England Leadership Summit

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by Nathaniel Mauger

Oftentimes, internships burden students with tedious unenviable tasks that dull the mind and leave the intern feeling bored and underutilized. Fortunately for me, the Secular Student Alliance does not emulate this practice. Starting April 16th, The Secular Student Alliance hosted the 2010 New England Leadership Summit at Harvard University, and I was thrilled to accompany them. The summit featured sessions focused on a multitude of issues facing secular s tudent groups and the movement in general. Preparing student leaders to facilitate cooperation with other campus groups, come up with interesting programming ideas, and get people to meetings were a few of the many topics discussed at the summit. The summit struck a balance between introducing new speakers with fresh perspectives on the direction of the movement and providing access to established freethought leaders such as Greg Epstein, Rebecca Goldstein, and Greta Christina.

 In the weeks leading up to the Leadership Summit, the office was an exciting place to be. I was almost always busy; whether that meant creating the proceedings booklets, emailing presenters about presentation details or creating name badges, my benevolent overlords at the SSA seemed to always have something for me to do. I was also privileged to give a presentation at the New England Leadership Summit on the keys to respectful interaction and cooperation with religious groups. In preparing my presentation, I decided to use my experience traveling to New Orleans over Spring Break to participate in a service trip alongside a Christian campus group at OSU as an example of interfaith cooperation. At first, the request seemed a little intimidating, but as the conference drew near, I became increasingly excited at the opportunity to tell others about what I had learned since becoming active in the movement on campus and in the SSA.

We were fortunate to have scheduled our conference to coincide with the Harvard Secular Society's presentation of the Harvard Humanism Award to the MythBusters. I gained a new understanding of how the MythBusters use their profoundly skeptical worldview to fuel the curiosity and creativity one sees in their shows. On Saturday, the conference began, and I was given the task of greeting the attendees at the door. Topics discussed on the first day included "What Atheists can Learn from the GLBT Movement" by Greta Christina, "How to become a Fundraising Ninja" by SSA Executive Director August Brunsman, and even a special address to the conference from Congressman Pete Stark.

 There were over 10 different speakers presenting on Saturday including our Keynote Speaker, Author and Philosopher Rebecca Goldstein (36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction), who gave us a thought provoking lecture on common misconceptions surrounding the origins of moral behavior and what makes a behavior moral to begin with. Sunday's events were no less interesting, with a highlight being an interview with Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and author of New York Times Best Seller, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe . By the time the conference had concluded, I felt like I had gained a great deal of insight into how to better run a campus freethought group, and I know that I made important connections with secular campus group leaders that I will take advantage of in the future.

Working with the Secular Student Alliance has given me a whole new appreciation for the challenges associated with planning and running a successful conference. So much goes into the preparation, and as an intern, it's encouraging to be included in this process to such a high degree.


Nate Mauger is the Wintern (Winter + Intern) at the Secular Student Alliance. He is an active member of Students for Freethought at The Ohio State University where he studies Anthropology and Geography. With graduation on the horizon, Nate hopes to stave off unemployment by attending grad school to study Geographic Information Systems.
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