For five and a half weeks - spanning from June 5-July 14, - a Missouri Southern State University student participated in the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows program at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
"I saw the program offered for the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows on Mount Vernon's Instagram in October of 2015," said Ashley Burns, student at MSSU.

For five and a half weeks - spanning from June 5-July 14,  - a Missouri Southern State University student participated in the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows program at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
"I saw the program offered for the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows on Mount Vernon's Instagram in October of 2015," said Ashley Burns, student at MSSU.
"The requirements included being a rising college junior, U.S. citizen, and have a 3.4 or higher GPA and I knew I needed to apply because I fell in love with the beautiful Mount Vernon estate two years ago on a family vacation," she said. "I wanted to strengthen myself as a leader. It became my biggest dream and goal of the year to get into the program and after applying and  getting people to write letters of recommendation for me, I was one of the 35 people (out of more than 200 applicants)   asked to complete a video conference interview.  I was very blessed to have been chosen to be one of the 16 Fellows based on my leadership and my cause."
Burns was asked a series of questions from the Daily News about her experience with this program.
NDN: What is the main purpose of the program?
Burns: The main purpose of the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program is to equip rising college juniors with valuable leadership skills based on the values and leadership of George Washington. The program educates and strengthens the fellows through various activities, lessons, and provides a mentor in D.C. to help with the capstone project. Each student brings a capstone cause that is close to their heart. For my capstone cause, I wanted to find new and creative ways to engage youth and diversity in the National Parks.
 My overall project that  I  created ended up being a curriculum-based education program based on George

Washington Carver's life and leadership for local 8th graders provided through a classroom visit from a ranger from George Washington Carver National Monument.  It was designed to empower 8th graders to be leaders in the own communities.

NDN: What all transpired during your stay?
Burns: The first week of the program, I got to live in quarters on the Mount Vernon estate. It was incredible. While I went to class with my fellows to learn about leadership through lessons and guest speakers, we also got to roam around the estate after hours and get really close to estate through tours during the day as well.  We visited places in D.C. such as the White House, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, Gallup, Pew Charitable Trusts, C-SPAN, and many more incredible places.  Some guest speakers we spoke to include David Rubenstein who funded the program, Jim Clifton (CEO of Gallup), Lt. General Stewart (Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency), Anita McBride (former Chief of Staff for First Lady Laura Bush), Curt Viebranz (President of Mount Vernon), and many more incredible people.

NDN: What did you learn while there
Burns: I learned my own strengths as a leader and the role that I play in my community and various teams I serve as a leader or representative.  I learned an incredible amount from my fellows and their capstones such as sexual assault on campuses, apostasy in various countries including the United States, and how reading has a huge positive impact on kids at a young age and many children in the US need better access to books, among many other causes that I found interesting that my peers were working on.

NDN: How neat of an experience was it for you?
Burns: It was an incredible experience that was definitely once in a lifetime and I cannot thank the Mount Vernon staff enough for all the work they put into this program and for choosing me to be a part of it.  There were 16 students including me from all across the country and I am so happy I got to collaborate with them and build a lifelong network of great friends and connections.

Burns joined 15 other students from  Mississippi, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee, New York and she was the only one from Missouri.

NDN: What are the advantages of you attending the program?
Burns: I gained an immense network of incredible people from all across the country and the entire world, I learned my strengths as a leader, and I learned valuable lessons from CEOs, military officials, and other prominent leaders of the United States. I also completed a project with the help of my mentor, the fellows, and the Mount Vernon staff and that was an incredible process and experience to go through.

NDN: If you had to narrow it down, what were some of your likes of the program?
NDN: My favorite parts of the program would be living on the Mount Vernon estate and the beautiful views of the Potomac River from George Washington's Piazza, the incredible and gracious Mount Vernon staff, my fellow fellows who are now some of my best friends, and our various off site visits to places such as Gallup and Pew.

NDN: Did you get the opportunity to sight see?
Burns: When we first arrived, the fellows began compiling a list of activities and places we wanted to see in Washington D.C.  Together, we visited many places including the National Mall monuments of course, the Holocaust Museum, the National Cathedral, the Library of Congress, and many more.  Perhaps some of my favorite places besides Mount Vernon were the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (the nation's largest Roman Catholic church) and The National Gallery of Art where I got to see six
Vincent Van Gogh paintings!  We also lived in  Old Town Alexandria so King Street was always a fun  place to walk around and spend time at a  coffee shop working on our projects.

NDN: How will this experience help you later in life?
Burns: This experience has strengthened me as a leader and will always be an experience to reflect back on when I am making an important decision or stepping up as a leader in any organization or career that I am involved in.

NDN: Would you go back again if you could
Burns: Absolutely! I will do everything I can to make it back next year for the Alumni banquet and any time I am in the area I have to visit Mount Vernon; it is one of my favorite places in the world and I am so attached to it now and even more in love with it than I was before.

NDN: Would you encourage others to go
NDN: I would definitely encourage others to go if they have a background as a leader in their community, are  an independent and open-minded individual,  have a cause they are passionate about, and want to make a positive difference in the world.

NDN: Anything else, please add.
Burns: Once again, I have been beyond blessed by this experience and I encourage others to find ways to use their strengths and talents to achieve their dreams and goals.  Our world really is a big, beautiful place and no one is too small to make a positive change.  One of our nation's greatest leaders, George Washington, didn't have a formal education past the age of 15 but he knew education was vital and had the humility to surround himself with others that were smarter than he was to collaborate with and make big decisions for our forming country. One of the biggest pieces of advice that was repeated among many of the leaders that spoke to us was to not be afraid to surround ourselves with people that are smarter than us and could replace us in our jobs.  One of George Washington's Rules of Civility was to: "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company."  I have certainly learned that this is true.