Campus Life

Presidential Leadership Academy accepting nominations, applications

The Presidential Leadership Academy is accepting nominations and applications for its next class of students.

Started with a lead $5 million endowment by Edward and Helen Hintz in 2009, the Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) accepts 30 first-year students for an experience of a lifetime. The couple started the PLA with the goal of generating critical thinking in “gray” political and social dilemmas. The PLA creates a 21st-century leader who is ready to face complex problems with simple solutions.

Unity in diversity 

The PLA selects 30 students from diverse majors and life experiences to foster a community where students learn from others. This community includes musicians, artists, writers, engineers, actors, dancers, athletes, veterans and LGBT+ activists. PLA students come from all parts of the globe. 

Where have PLA students gone? 

The PLA’s alumni network includes more than 300 members, and its branches are spread all across the world. From Google to Goldman Sachs, from Columbia University to graduate research at MIT, PLA alumni have made their mark in every discipline. PLA focuses on transferable critical thinking skills and leadership that apply to almost any field. Many PLA students have become successful entrepreneurs and teachers. 

Class with leaders

A highlight of the student’s experience in the academy is a seminar with President Eric Barron. Through intense reflections, President Barron brings his toughest dilemmas to the table for students to learn in the world of leadership and higher education. Previous conversations have included Greek life, sexual assault on campus, and hate speech/free speech. In the second semester of their experience in the academy, students work on a service project that aims to serve the Penn State/State College community under the leadership and supervision of Peggy A. Johnson, dean of the Schreyer Honors College. Previous service projects have aimed to tackle issues pertaining to sustainability, mental health, fairness and equity. 

Field trips 

Every semester, PLA members go on a fully funded field trip, allowing students to hone critical thinking skills and leadership outside the classroom setting. Previous trips have included a week in Seattle, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, New York, and Washington, D.C. On these trips, students have the opportunity to mingle with and learn from mentors across various industries such as technology, television and organizational leadership. Students also visit museums and meet with PLA’s alumni network across the country. In 2019, PLA students visited IBM in Washington, D.C. Previous visits have been as extravagant as a food tour in Los Angeles to a tour of the Boeing aircraft facility in Everett, Washington. PLA’s endowment allows for grants and financial aid to all accepted students. These grants have previously supported internships, co-ops, study-abroad experiences and emergency funds. 

 A chance to reflect 

The academy stresses the importance of reflection and writing. PLA students blog regularly about their opinions and learnings throughout the semester. These blogs have later become parts of longer essays, papers, and theses. President Barron hosts the students at his residence, the Schreyer House, to reflect on the cohort’s growth every semester. 

Who may apply 

Any first-year student at Penn State University Park with a GPA of 3.2 or above may apply. Applications close on Feb. 14, at midnight. Visit to apply. Staff and faculty may nominate a first-year student at by Feb. 3.


Last Updated February 05, 2020