Two Texas attorneys, Grant Sparks and B.J. Goergen, just wrapped up their year as members of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Class of 2016. This six-month educational program is jointly sponsored by the U.S. presidential centers of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush. Of hundreds of applicants, only 61 are chosen as scholars, and they come from diverse walks of life, including private and public, nonprofit, military, and academia backgrounds.

The program began in February at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, and scholars then visited each presidential center, spending about 100 hours listening to discussions and case studies presented by former presidents, administration officials, and academics. The series focuses on teaching scholars how to use different approaches to leadership and problem solving, develop peer networks, and exchange ideas that impact their communities.

Throughout the year, each scholar works on a personal leadership project. Sparks, who is an assistant U.S. attorney, was inspired by a recent case in which two minor girls who ran away from a drug rehabilitation facility in Austin were approached by human traffickers. Sparks’s personal leadership project involves the development of classroom presentations with the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department to help teens in juvenile detention understand their vulnerabilities so they can avoid victimization.

“This sad circumstance motivated me to push for more education and awareness training in the juvenile detention communities—a population that is oftentimes targeted by sexual predators.”

Goergen runs the Radler Foundation in Fort Worth, where she oversees clean water and health programs across unreached communities in East Africa. Her personal leadership project aims to expand a leadership academy to empower the next generation of young leaders in South Sudan with tools to rebuild their country after decades of civil war.

“South Sudan does not have a strong foundation for the rule of law, and many of the country’s leaders are not equipped to govern complex organizations. To invest in capacity building, I helped launch the Leadership Academy of South Sudan, which brings men and women from all different tribes across the country and equips them with academic training, character development, and entrepreneurial skills.”

Sparks and Goergen participated in final coursework and graduation ceremonies in Little Rock, Arkansas, from July 12-15. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presided, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was a special guest. The event attendees had to rush to shelter, as reported by the Washington Post, due to severe weather. Sparks said: “It was all very exciting!”