Foreign policy concerns dominated the late 1970s as the Cold War escalated and communists were taking over higher education. Young America’s Foundation’s goal was to give young conservative activists the education they needed to deal with the academic Left and defend their ideas in the classroom.
James Taylor, a current member of Young America’s Foundation’s Board of Directors, was the education program consultant at the time and saw the need for a program that could intellectually equip student activists. “The ideas that made this country great–self reliance, individual liberty, faith in God–are under constant attack in American colleges,” Taylor noted in 1979. “That’s why the Foundation is so important- to serve as a rallying point for responsible students who wish to restore academic balance in our universities.”
To meet the Conservative Movement’s need for such a program, YAF held its first “Orientation Seminar” (later named the National Conservative Student Conference) at American University in Washington, D.C. from August 12-15 in 1979. More than 50 students from around the country answered an ad in National Review and registered for the conference, which featured four days of lectures and discussions on US foreign policy.
Dr. Alan Ned Sabrosky was the academic director for the first Orientation Seminar. A noted authority on international relations, Sabrosky presented students in attendance with a viewpoint that most wouldn’t hear in their classrooms: That the United States wasn’t “the bad guy” in the world.
In addition to Dr. Sabrosky, other conference faculty included Dr. Jeffrey Gayner, Robert Schadler, and Paul Koch, with special guest lectures by Andre Visser and Dr. W. Scott Thompson. Students in attendance had the opportunity to engage in Q & A with the speakers and participate in discussion groups to learn how to push back against the leftist ideas their professors were teaching.
Notable alumni of the first Orientation Seminar are Marc Thiessen, Chuck Cunningham, and the Honorable Roy Brun.
Today, Marc Thiessen is a frequent speaker for Young America’s Foundation and an author, columnist, and commentator. He also served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Chuck Cunningham is now the senior vice president for government relations at Securing America’s Future Energy and previously served as the director of federal affairs at the National Rifle Association.
Roy Brun went on to be a bold conservative voice as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and as a judge of Louisiana’s 1st Judicial District.
Young America’s Foundation’s purpose has always been clear: to prepare students who believe in freedom to defend their beliefs in the often-hostile environment of college campuses. The first Orientation Seminar was a pilot to determine the effectiveness of a summer school for students to become equipped and motivated to advance conservative ideas on their campuses, something that didn’t exist at the time. The overwhelming success of the first Orientation Seminar paved the way for four decades of conferences preparing student activists in the study of foreign policy, free market economics, national defense, and foundational values that have made America strong, prosperous, and independent.
The format of YAF’s Orientation Seminars, coupled with the Reagan model of bold activism, has withstood the test of time and is often imitated but never duplicated. Fancy swag and fun slogans are no replacement for 40 years of tried and true resources and the success of Young America’s Foundation conferences.
The 40th annual National Conservative Student Conference will take place in Washington, DC from July 30 to August 4. Click here to learn more and secure your spot!