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Astronaut Hopkins Stresses Value of Servant Leadership During UCM Speech

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Oct. 10, 2014) – Incorporating compelling video and photos taken from the International Space Station with a message that wove in aspects of servant leadership such as ambassadorship, commitment, mentoring, and public service, Col. Michael S. Hopkins presented the Ike Skelton Lecture at the University of Central Missouri. A longtime member of the U.S. Air Force and NASA astronaut who spent 166 days in space, Hopkins’ presentation took place Thursday, Oct. 9 in Hendricks Hall before a crowd that included UCM faculty, staff, students and alumni, members of Whiteman Air Force Base, and local public school children.

Hopkins became the second person to present the Ike Skelton Lecture at UCM. It is part of the Servant Leadership Lecture Series, a joint initiative between the university and Whiteman, which represents shared values of service and leadership. Gen. (Ret.) Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff became the first lecturer in the series when he spoke on campus Jan. 22.

Col. Michael Hopkins

Col. Michael Hopkins illustrated his presentation of the Ike Skelton Lecture at UCM Oct. 9 with a photo of himself taken during a spacewalk while he was abord the International Space Station

With a video screen as backdrop, Hopkins appeared before the Hendricks Hall crowd wearing a blue NASA jumpsuit. He opened his presentation providing insight into the longtime U.S. Congressman from Lexington, Mo., for whom the series is named. 

“I didn’t know, and didn’t have a chance to meet Ike Skelton, but I did do some research…I found some words people used to describe him that clearly highlight why this lecture series is named after him,” Hopkins said. Some of the nation’s top leaders, he noted, used words and phrases such as “quiet dignity,”  “tireless commitment,” “mentor,” “skills of compromise and common sense,” and “respected by his colleagues (in the House) on both sides of the aisle” to describe Skelton, who served for 17 terms in Congress.   

 “He continually talked about the U.S. role of world leadership and how that aligns with the national interests of the United States, but then how the world also benefits from that leadership,” Hopkins said about Skelton. “So, today as I talk about servant leadership, I want to focus on those words, because often times those are the same words experts use to describe a great leader and servant.”

Throughout his speech, he mentioned a characteristic of servant leadership, while also incorporating messages about how such qualities apply to astronauts and to other individuals. For example, he said, “Ambassadors really are at the forefront of that leadership because they are the ones who are interacting with people all over the world.”

Being an ambassador doesn’t just apply someone appointed by a U.S. president to a foreign land, Hopkins pointed out. He said before becoming an astronaut, he rarely had the opportunity to speak before large groups. Months after he returned from space, March 10, 2014, he has spent considerable time speaking with school children and other groups about his mission, and the value of space travel, which is science.

“I didn’t do a lot of community speaking before I went into space, but when you put on the blue suit that becomes an expectation,” he said, noting that the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the space station often engage in public relations activities via video, even from space.

He showed video of training exercises outside of Moscow and the actual rocket liftoff, which took place Sept. 25, 2013 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryanzanskiy. His video provided the crowd an opportunity to see how the space crew experienced weightlessness, how they communicated with colleagues and loved ones back on Earth, exercised in space, conducted research, and completed ongoing maintenance tasks at the International Space Station that has been continually in operation for approximately 14 years.
While in space, Hopkins and U.S. astronaut Rick Mastracchio, who later joined the crew, conducted a pair of spaces walks lasting five and half hours and seven and a half hours – the last of the walks on Christmas Day,
Dec. 25, 2013,to change out a degraded pump module on the space station. In his public presentation, and during a press opportunity for area media, he spoke about that mission, and what it was like to step into space for the first time.

“That’s a pretty incredible moment too -  like the launch. It’s one of those times you’ll never forget, particularly when the hatch opens for the first time and you are looking out in space,” he said. “I often describe it as a ball of emotions that are going on. You’re very motivated, very excited. That’s probably the event most astronauts dream about getting to do.”

“But,” he added, “you also feel a little bit vulnerable because it is a harsh environment, and things can go wrong. So you tend to be very focused on these spacewalks.”

Hopkins said the spacewalk wasn’t planned.  When the pump failure occurred on Dec. 11, the space station crew began working with the ground crew to determine if there was a way to fix the equipment.

“At that point, we weren’t sure if we were going to do the walk or not,” he said, noting that the crew began preparation work for a spacewalk at least 10 days prior to the actual event.

 He praised the work of space station crews that have gone before him, making sure the aging craft continues its science mission.

“It’s truly an incredible vehicle that really highlights a collaboration…The fact that they were able to build a space station, and keep it in operating for 14 years, something like that. It’s mind-boggling to think about it, there’s been a human presence in space continuously all of that time since we started manning the space station. As we speak right now, six astronauts and cosmonauts are floating around performing science, and getting ready to do spacewalks.  It’s truly incredible.”

Hopkins was joined on stage by his stepmother, Paula Hertwig Hopkins; Col. Matthew Brooks, WAFB; and UCM President Charles Ambrose.  Ms. Hopkins introduced him. She provided details about her stepson’s childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and his climb up the Air Force ranks, and becoming one of nine individuals selected out of pool of 3,500 applicants to make a journey to the space station, following four and one-half years of training.

She also described Col. Hopkins as a dedicated family man with a strong faith in God. Evidence of that was shared in his remarks to the audience as he talked about communicating with his wife daily by phone, weekly videoconferences with his family, and opportunities to watch one of his children’s sporting events live via video conferencing, in addition to talking about helping his children with their homework assignments.

During his meeting with the press, Hopkins spoke briefly about his overall goal for his presentation.

“The theme, servant leadership, is extremely important, and what I’d like for everyone to take away is that everybody plays that role,” Hopkins said, “whether you are a colonel or president at the university, a student or airman at the base, everyone has a role in servant leadership in this country.”