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Justin Akers

Justin Akers: Empowering Students to Make Positive Change

As you walk through the Memorial Student Center, you won’t miss the multitude of Enactus trophies on display outside the Sandage Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. With Enactus’ recent success, the case is loaded—Graceland’s team has won Regionals and qualified for the National competition 12 times in the last 13 years.

JessicaBut if you step inside the Sandage Center, a projection screen is often pulled down over the display case—the Enactus team is always working, with no time to sit around and admire their handy work. At the helm of this ever-busy group is Justin Akers, Director of the Sandage Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Although Justin continually emphasizes it’s the students who make Graceland Enactus a successful program, it’s obvious that he’s a key player in empowering the students to do what they do.

Enactus Team"Our Enactus students are proud of who they are, and they understand that success doesn’t come automatically—you have to work for it," said Justin. "I want to make sure our students have the best possible chance to showcase their work, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help them do that—except do it for them."

This—empowering students to accomplish what's personally important to them—is Justin’s passion. A family man with three children ages five and under, Justin also teaches classes in Graceland’s Agricultural Business program and runs a family farming operation with his wife, Kristen. Justin is a busy man—but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Justin Akers: Growing Up with Farm Roots

Justin AkersA farmer through and through, Justin grew up on a family farm near Kellerton, Iowa, a short distance away from Graceland’s Lamoni campus. After finishing high school, he got his Bachelors from Iowa State in Agricultural Business and worked as a professional farm manager in northern Illinois. Later he returned to the local area, selling real estate and insurance in Mt. Ayr. There, Justin discovered his passion for working with people and helping them solve problems. As a teaching assistant at Iowa State, where Justin returned to get his Masters in Agricultural Education, he discovered an interest in experiential learning. These interests eventually drew him to Graceland’s Enactus program. In 2008, he worked as Associate Director for the Sandage Center under Andy Simpson.

"I learned so much from Andy Simpson. He really helped me understand how connected Graceland is, and how to function best in this environment. The Enactus program has been blessed by a consistent handoff in leadership and connectivity,” said Justin. Leaving for a year to teach high school agriculture, Justin returned to Graceland in 2010, after Andy’s departure.

Justin Akers: Enactus: Driven By the Students

Now with three years’ experience as Enactus Director, Justin continues the tradition of letting the students drive Enactus.

“I keep the program as student-focused and directed as possible. It’s the students’ passion that drives what we do. When students get passionate about something, nothing will stand in their way,” stated Justin.

It’s that autonomy and Justin’s resolution that have empowered Graceland Enactus students to help people across the world. Currently, Graceland Enactus students are driving projects on four different continents, doing everything from teaching cooking classes in Lamoni to inspiring community change in The Philippines to helping people in Zambia generate vital revenue.

Enactus Students“Our students aren’t making a conscious effort right now to win Enactus events—they’re doing great project work that they’re inspired to do, and doing their best to satisfy the Enactus criterion along the way,” said Justin.

As the Enactus trophy case continues to fill, Justin says it’s not the trophies that propel the program, but students. As for Justin, what keeps him going is his drive to empowering students.

“My fear in life was to be stuck in a job that doesn’t make a difference. At Graceland, I make a difference. I know it. My goal is to help our students be successful and empower them to thrive in a challenging century.”

Justin J. Akers
Director - Sandage Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Assistant Professor of Business Administration C.H. Sandage School of Business Enactus (formerly SIFE) advisor Graceland University

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