Alumni inspire Presidential Leadership Academy students to find their own ways

Visit to New York is eye-opening for several dozen Penn State students

Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy students pose with Edward and Helen Hintz (far left) during a recent visit to New York. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students in the Presidential Leadership Academy learned motivating lessons from distinguished Penn State alumni and other New York professionals during a tour of the city in late October.

A group of more than 50 students, along with faculty, staff, and Academy founders Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz, also made stops at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the Culinary Institute of America, and Lincoln Center, among several other venues, during a weekend trip. Before they saw the city, though, they listened to speakers in various leadership positions in New York, including three with Penn State degrees.

One of those speakers was Eli Kariv, a 2015 business graduate and the founder of The Coding Space, an after-school program that allows children to develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills through computer coding.

“As a PLA alumnus, it was incredible to have the opportunity to speak to current students about what it was like starting my own company after graduation,” Kariv said. “The academy gathers a unique group of students that are both eager to learn, and open-minded about many different life paths which makes for very engaging discussions.”

Farnooshi Torabi, a 2002 business alumna and a journalist, author, and personal finance expert, said she appreciated the students’ ambition and drive and shared some of her own professional experiences.

“I explained how anyone can invent their own career path and create their own opportunities,” Torabi said. “It's not always going to be a straight path. You're not always going to have the answers. But it's important to keep pushing, stay curious, and challenge yourself.”

Students appreciated the various perspectives and paths to success of the speakers, which also included 1989 business alumnus Andy Sieg, managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch; Ann Weber, senior vice president at Kallyope, a biotechnology company; and Joe Musso, senior program manager for agency resiliency at the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency in New York City.

“There was something about every one of them that I could relate to,” said sophomore engineering major Kandice Pettaway. “One of the common themes was work hard and grind, but also that it’s OK not to know where you’re going to be as soon as you get out of school. A lot of them didn’t have a direct path.”

Sophomore business major and Schreyer Honors Scholar Paul Birch agreed.

“It’s definitely really neat to see people that have been in our shoes and are succeeding in so many different fields and to hear their advice,” Birch said. “They talked about making a personal mission statement and trying to figure out what your personal objectives are, and that really resounded with me.”

Nominations are now being accepted for current freshmen who will be sophomores in the fall of 2017 for membership to the Presidential Leadership Academy. Nominations may be submitted online at Students nominated for the academy will be asked to complete the application process, which includes submission of a current resume listing campus or external leadership activities, a letter of recommendation from an individual (mentor, coach, supervisor), and two essays, with topics to be posted soon. A minimum GPA of 3.2 at the time of application is required.

Students may also submit personal applications for the Presidential Leadership Academy with the same requirements as above, plus the addition of a letter of reference from a Penn State faculty member, staff member or adviser. Application information can be found online at The deadline for student applications is Feb. 13, 2017.

Founded with a lead gift from Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz in 2009, the Presidential Leadership Academy was established with the goal of developing critical-thinking skills and educating students to understand issues broadly with consideration for the complexity and variability of world matters, decisions, and life’s circumstances.

In addition to coursework for the program, students attend leadership seminars, engage in community programs, and participate in fully funded field trips planned each academic semester to give students broader perspectives on social, political and environmental issues. University President Eric J. Barron teaches a weekly seminar course in the student’s third year in the program with honors courses led by the dean of the Schreyer Honors College and Melissa Doberstein, director of the Presidential Leadership Academy, as well as a class on critical thinking. The final year concludes with a capstone experience and creation of an e-portfolio.

The PLA fosters an environment that promotes and develops values critical for potential leaders including civility, philanthropy, respect for diversity, and student engagement. This academic community of students, faculty and administrators, explores multiple dimensions of issues, encourages diverse viewpoints, and creates a fully informed and respectful discourse that leads to sound action.

Students in Penn State's Presidential Leadership Academy pose with Director Melissa Doberstein, far left. Credit: Photo providedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated January 18, 2017