Mesa Leadership Program offers learning through classes, tours and shadowing experiences

By Jill Adair

Special to The Arizona Republic

Contributed by Jill Adair, a freelance journalist and an associate faculty member at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

 This year’s Mesa Leadership Program is halfway over and the experiences already have been eye-opening and greatly enriching for class members.

“I’ve lived in this town since the mid-90s and I’ve learned more in these few months than all those years,” said Lynn Runyan, a class member and senior planning analyst with Salt River Project.

Class member Morgan Sarager, a customer service analyst with SRP, said he’s learned a lot about how the city needs to operate effectively now while also being prepared for the future.

“It takes a coordinated effort to make sure the daily functions of the city are completed but leaders must always have the future in mind when making important strategic decisions,” he said.

“I’ve also learned the importance of building healthy relationships with those whom we work with,” he said. “We may not always agree with each other but having the ability to build positive working relationships and focus on common goals is an important leadership skill to possess.”

January’s Mesa Leadership class, held Jan. 9 at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, focused on sustainability and development.


The class heard from Brian Sexton, public information officer with the airport, who highlighted the growth and potential for the area in the far southeastern part of Mesa.

PIO Brian Sexton discusses the airport’s impact on the local economy.
“Allegiant Air is the anchor for Gateway,” Sexton said, assuring the class that the airlines is planning to stay and grow where it’s been since 2007 – in Mesa.


Kevin Thompson, Mesa City Councilman from District 6, spoke about leadership perspectives on priority initiatives.

Councilman Kevin Thompson speaks to the class.
He said his focus since he joined the council a year ago has been on economic development and envisions a manufacturing corridor along Elliott Road near the airport.

And with increasing residential development in his district, he said the “big push” is for a new fire station in the area and more police.

“It’s our job on city council to ensure that our residents are safe, and feel safe,” he said.

Class members toured the airport as well as the adjacent Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus, including the Aviation Simulator Building, Startup Labs, and Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology.

A dust storm moves into Sky Harbor Airport in the Aviation Simulator Building at the Polytechnic Campus.

The skies look clear for now.

Pei Hsieh in an airplane simulator.

Michael Book gives it a try.

Aviation students learn how to assemble and repair airplane engines.

Students can dream big and make things happen in Startup Labs, an entrepreneurial prototyping and collaboration space at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus.

3D Alley


student creation
3D printer in action: A dragon emerges.

A working wrench: A student’s creation via a 3D printer discovered while touring Startup Labs’ “3D Alley.”

Dr Milton Sommerfeld
Dr. Milton Sommerfeld, co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, explains to the Mesa Leadership class how pond scum can be turned into sustainable fuel.

In addition to these monthly classes that run through April, Mesa Leadership Program offers tours not normally available to the public as an opportunity to learn first-hand about the issues currently facing the city.

Lyn Gorton, a class member and event lead for American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Greater Mesa, said his perspective has been broadened through these experiences.

“There are a lot of people in Mesa who need some form of help,” he said. “This is not obvious from a general public point of view, but I have had my eyes opened to a lot of things going on behind the scenes in our city.”

Runyan said she has been impressed with local nonprofit agencies and the resources they offer to the less-fortunate in the community.

“Helping those in poverty, women and children – that’s where I would like to make my contribution,” Runyan said, considering her volunteer opportunities after the class is over.

Mesa Leadership also requires and helps provide an opportunity to spend a day with a local leader of the class member’s choice to observe leadership in action. Some class members have spent part of a day with the mayor, city council members or leaders in local business.

Diane Cantile shadows Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh.
Jaime Glasser shadows Mayor John Giles and presents him with her artwork of Light Rail downtown.
Jill Adair shadows Mayor John Giles.
Sarager, who was recently in Washington D.C., was able to shadow Congressman Matt Salmon, R-Dist. 5, while there.

“I think what benefited me most was being reminded that we can all do great things, no matter what our aspirations may be,” he said. “I think we sometimes doubt ourselves and our abilities as individuals, so we automatically set limits to what we can achieve in life.”

“Spending time with Congressman Salmon helped me remember the potential we all have,” he said. “(He) is an amazing person and leader who has done and continues to do a lot of wonderful things but he wasn’t born into a political family or given an easy road to get to where he is. He had a desire to make a difference and serve his community and he had to work hard to get to where he is.”

Morgan Sarager with Matt Salmon
Morgan Sarager shadows Congressman Matt Salmon.
“Whether we aspire to become a member of Congress, a city leader, a business leader, a better spouse, a better parent, or just a better person, we should not doubt our abilities,” he said. “We can do great things and become great leaders if we have the desire and drive to become such.”

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