By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Grant Schenk believes in leading by serving.
"I'm here to make people better and to serve our community and make the community better," said Schenk, a junior on Auburn's swim team. "It's not about me. It's about Auburn. It's about the Auburn family."
Schenk recently represented Auburn and the Southeastern Conference at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Baltimore, Md. Schenk and Missouri gymnast Kennedi Harris were the SEC's representatives.
"It was definitely a blessing. Going to the conference was just incredible. I met so many amazing people," he said. "It was very analytical and scientific and reflective. It was really awesome."
Over a four-day span, Schenk learned leadership skills while discussing the relationship between values, beliefs and behavioral styles.
"I think the biggest takeaways were perspective on myself and the school that we go to," Schenk said. "We're so fortunate to go to a school not only in the SEC but a school like Auburn where family is number one.
"We talked a lot about emotional intelligence as a leader. Being aware of how people are feeling, and how their day might be going. Being a leader doesn't always mean the loudest person in the group. It may just be asking someone, `Hey, how are you doing today?' And making that connection. When you can connect with people, you make more leaders. Being aware of what you say. It's not always what you say, it's how you say it."
An international business major with a concentration in supply chain management, Schenk is considering a career in athletic administration.
"Seeing how much influence administrators have on the welfare of student-athletes," Schenk said. "I like to care for people. I like helping people. I think that would be a really great opportunity."
Schenk, who serves as vice president of Auburn's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, adjusted easily to life on the Plains from his home in San Diego.
"I love Auburn," he said. "A little bit different than San Diego, but I like the way of life down here. It's not as fast-paced. People are kind. They want to talk to you and get to know you."
Schenk, a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, shared the leadership principles he developed at the conference with his teammates on Auburn's men's team.
"A freshman can be a leader," Schenk said. "A freshman can ask a senior, `Hey, man, how's your day going?'"
The days have been going well for the No. 17 Tigers, who will take a 5-0 record into the Georgia Invite Dec. 2-4.
"That's being a great follower," Schenk said. "There's this negative stigma about being a follower. There are great followers, too. And they make great leaders. Our freshmen are starting to step up and our sophomores, juniors and seniors, and it's become this collective group. We're all leaders and we're all great followers. So let's come together and get it done."
Schenk, who recorded the fifth-fasted 1650 freestyle in program history, is hoping his actions in the pool, and his words out of it, will help lead Auburn to a 19th SEC Championship in February.
"Championships are great to talk about," he said. "But championships are a by-product of good leadership."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer