I found the Presidential Leadership Academy through an announcement in the Schreyer weekly newsletter. After attending an information session and learning about the mission of the program, I was determined to be a member. Following hours spent on my application, a mediocre interview, and a presumably redemptive performance at the candidate mingle, I was ecstatic to learn that I was a member of the Theta class.
By the end of the very first PLA class, I was floored by the intellect and the eloquence of my classmates. I realized quickly that these peers would push me to ask stronger questions and build better arguments. Through the process of writing the policy paper, I learned how multiple lenses are useful in understanding a complex issue, like college student mental health. I also learned what it was like to work in sync with a strong team (shoutout to the tech team!). Jack Iffert, Reilly Ebbs, and I worked for a year after our policy was submitted to try to make Lean On Me a reality on our campus. While we were ultimately unsuccessful, I learned that change in an institution requires both a push from the changemakers and a pull from the administration.
President Barron’s seminar taught me how complex institutions like a university have many constituencies that they are responsible to, and making decisions in a leadership role will always please some groups and upset others. I felt incredibly blessed to be a student at an enormous university, yet have the opportunity to learn from the leader of this organization. This class also sparked my interest in philanthropy and development, specifically the analytics-side of these operations, and set off a series of events which led me to an internship in philanthropic analytics.
In New York and in Seattle, I was reminded that the world is so much bigger than Penn State, and my leadership skills will extend far beyond any student organization. Spending time with these motivated, intelligent, and authentic Academy members helped me see firsthand the value of being surrounded by positive role models. In DC and Chicago, I strengthened the bonds with my friends and began developing connections with the younger classes, while also learning from leaders across industries. In Los Angeles, I was humbled as I realized how little I knew about educational disparities and sustainability and determined to always keep learning. The LA trip gave me perspective about how much life there is to live after Penn State and got me excited for the future.
Today, at the end of my senior year at Penn State and entering my last weeks as a member of the PLA, I am incredibly grateful. I am still in disbelief that I was granted the opportunity to actively grow my leadership skills and learn from respected leaders from the university and beyond. This program helped make my time at Penn State incredibly special. I am thankful for the Hintzes for serving as the benefactor of such an extraordinary program and for their kindness and support over the years. I would also like to thank Melissa for tolerating my bullshit and providing an environment that supports students (and their shenanigans) – you took very good care of me. Thank you to Amanda, Glorie, and Kristine for the friendship and warmth you always showed me, even when I showed up in the PLA office for the third time that week. Finally, I want to thank my fellow PLA members. I have learned so much from each of you, and you have pushed me to be a better version of myself. I’m a better person because of this group.
It would be foolish of me to pretend that I know what my future has in store. Instead, what I do know is that I’ll carry the lessons I learned in PLA as I navigate the gray areas of my life. First, PLA has taught me that you get out what you put in. I made PLA a priority in my college career – I went on every trip I could, attended every class, and invested in the friends I made here. Because of this, I learned so much about myself, my leadership style, and the world at large. The relationships I made here are ones that I hope to carry with me far beyond graduation. Next, PLA taught me the value of effective communication. Communication is not just a matter of what you say, but also when you say it and how you say it. As somebody who likes to talk and sometimes over communicates, learning how to be tempered and deliberate about how I communicate has paid dividends. Last, I will always credit PLA for teaching me the value of reflection. Within my first year with PLA, I was reminded often of the value of knowing yourself and understanding your own motivations. Even when I did it begrudgingly, blogging for the past three years has provided a valuable outlet for me to process my life and my thoughts, and it has provided me with clarity. I vow to continue this practice of regular reflection as I enter the real world. Though my time with the Presidential Leadership Academy has come to a close, the impact of this program will not be forgotten.