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Penn State’s Presidential Leadership Academy is a three-year leadership experience meant to foster critical thinking and decision making in students through seminar classes, field trips, and weekly reflection. Each class of 30 is selected from over 200 applicants to create a cohort representing diverse backgrounds, majors, and experiences. Here is my final reflection on my time in the Academy and how it shaped my understanding of leadership.

Coursework

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During sophomore year, Academy members take a seminar with the President Barron focused on major issues facing universities, such as free speech on campus, Greek life, and balancing the budget. Students also take a course with the Dean of the Schreyer Honors College focusing on deep-dive into one issue, culminating in a policy proposal. For my year, the focus of our course was college student mental health. My team’s policy focused on implementing technology-based solutions to the increased demand on campus counseling resources, introducing the Triage Tool, the Red Folder Intiative, and Lean On Me. Since our policy’s publication in 2016, the Red Folder has become a reality at Penn State, and every faculty and staff member is equipped with it to help students in crisis. A link to our full proposal can be found here.

Blogging

Weekly blogging is a required part of the Presidential Leadership Academy, and it serves as an opportunity to reflect on the leadership lessons discussed in class, current events, or other musings. Here is a selection of some of my favorite blogs throughout my three years with PLA:

Field Trips

Each semester the PLA takes a field trip to a different location within the US to broaden the horizons of the students and provide a more comprehesive understanding of leadership beyond Penn State. Over my time with PLA, I attended trips to New York, Seattle, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

New York, Fall 2016

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New York was my first trip was PLA and opened my eyes to the kinds of experiences this program could offer. We heard from speakers from pharmaceuticals, banking, personal finance, and startups - in each of their talks, they hit upon the theme of introspection and understanding your own motivations. The importance of reflection and introspection was one of the biggest takeaways from my first year with PLA. In addition to this, we visited the Culinary Institute of America and the 9/11 Museum. This trip was the first time that the Theta class of PLA bonded, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

Seattle, Spring 2017

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Seattle was the first extended trip I took with PLA, and it stands as my favorite trip of all time. Outside of an amazing food tour of Pike Place market, we visited the Boeing factory, Amazon headquarters, and the Chihuly glass museum. On this trip, I began to get to know some of the older members of PLA, and I was floored by how interesting and thoughtful they all seemed. I learned that we all have different paths in this program, but are all united by a love of good conversation and civil argument.

DC, Fall 2018

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In the fall of my junior year, I joined PLA on the trip to Washington DC. While I couldn’t stay for the entire trip, I loved learning about politics in our nation’s capital. We met with Pennsylvania Congressmen from both sides of the aisle and discussed with them current events. The most striking part of this trip was our visit to the Smithsonian’s African American History museum. It was unsettling yet enlightening to see the history of African Americans from slavery through segregation to modern issues. My full reflection on the DC trip can be found here.

Chicago, Spring 2018

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My second spring break trip with PLA was to the Windy City of Chicago. This was an especially meaningful trip to me, because I would spend summer 2018 in Chicago, so I got a first glimpse at the city I would call home for June and July. The highlight of this was a Jazz & Blues tour of the city where we learned about the progression of these musical genres in the context of the city’s history. My full reflection on the Chicago trip can be found here.

Los Angeles, Spring 2019

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My final trip with PLA was to Los Angeles in the spring of 2019. This trip was special, because it offered an opportunity to meet and bond with the younger members of PLA. I was now the senior in the program that I once looked up to. On this trip, we met with leaders of educational non-profits, entertainment producers, and museum curators to learn about many facets of the city. My biggest takeaway from this trip was the reminder that the world is a lot bigger than Penn State, and I have so much left to explore. To read more about my LA trip, click here.

Reflection

As I finish my time in PLA, I realize that my perspective has become much broader. Coming into the program, I considered myself a pretty well-informed individual with a good understanding of the world around me. If PLA has taught me anything, it’s humility in my own expertise. There is so much of the world that I do not understand, and so many people’s stories that I have not yet heard. As I exit the Academy, I will always remember to be a lifelong student and continue developing my world view.

Coming into the program, I would describe my leadership style as one based around preparation and expertise. In high school, I would lead a team by being the most prepared and having a plan already in place. As I have taken on more leadership roles in college and studied leadership through PLA, I realize now that my leadership style is more relationship-centric. I like to understand members of my team, what motivates them, and what their strengths are. Once I have an understanding of my team members’ personal qualities, I can then make decision that allow them to succeed. I hope to take this practice with me as I enter the workforce and take on future leadership roles.