Penn State Global Engagement and Leadership Experience fosters new perspectives

The weekend program has put hundreds of students through a unique multicultural experience

Penn State's Global Engagement and Leadership Experience program — GELE — brought together domestic and international students for a weekend retreat, with multiple sessions focused on intercultural communication and global leadership.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On the weekend of Jan. 25-27, Penn State Global Programs held the Global Engagement and Leadership Experience (GELE) program at the Antiochian Village Conference Center in Bolivar, Pennsylvania.

GELE is a program that was developed to foster and facilitate conversations in a diverse cohort of students. The program brings together domestic and international students for a weekend retreat, with multiple sessions focused on intercultural communication and global leadership.

“GELE allows our students to experience cross-cultural simulations, self-reflective identity work, and global leadership competency development in a safe, inclusive and introspective environment,” said Jennifer Campbell, director of global operations and learning in Global Programs.

Faculty and staff from diverse offices across the Commonwealth help to organize and facilitate the retreat.

"I think it's such a unique opportunity for students to be able to really challenge themselves in such a safe environment. [The retreat aspect] allows them to have attention and focus that they lose in their daily lives. GELE provides, from the academic side, a unique opportunity to really discuss some challenging topics," said Beth Seymour, associate teaching professor and GELE Guest Facilitator.

One of the most unique aspects of GELE is providing a space for students to have conversations that they would likely not feel comfortable having in their day-to-day lives.

“[There was] a lot of soul searching and learning to be true to ourselves and admitting to others what we’ve kept hidden,” said Coline Reinhardt, a GELE participant from Penn State Lehigh Valley. “It creates a very comfortable environment.”

GELE has grown tremendously in the years since its inception. It has had life-changing impact on its alumni by changing perspectives and forging life-long bonds and friendships between participants.

Joyce Chuinkam, a GELE participant in 2012, recounted a reunion with a fellow GELE participant:

"Seated at a bar in Santa Monica with Asel, across seven years since we last saw one another, but it felt like we were back in State College — a more mature, introspective State College. We talked about all the places we had lived (England, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles) and things we had done since GELE. We discussed politics, family, dreams, goals, life and love in a way that unified us despite her Kyrgyzstani-Americaness and my Cameroonian-Americaness. We were just two people. Two old friends who had just become new friends by the time we parted ways after graduation in 2012."

Cuinkam added that “GELE encouraged me to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to grow, lead, follow, connect with others — all of which made me feel alive. It built a bridge between strangers and friendship within hours through team-building activities, problem-solving simulations, and working towards a common goal that revealed we had more similarities than differences.”

This January, GELE saw 103 student participants from 16 campuses across the Commonwealth. Three GELE programs ran concurrently, facilitated by four Global Programs staff at University Park and seven Global Education Coordinators from the campuses, as well as eight faculty/staff Guest Facilitators.

The weekend culminated in an Intercultural Showcase, which allowed students to share aspects of their culture through performance and art.

“GELE was the best experience I’ve had in a while,” said Reinhardt. “I learned about so many cultures and opened my eyes on global issues. I can’t even express how happy I was with this weekend.”

Penn State’s goal is to provide an opportunity for all students to participate in GELE, in accordance with the university’s stance that it is “One University, Geographically Dispersed.” Starting in Fall 2019, there will be a GELE held in every region of Pennsylvania — and therefore, open to any Penn State student, regardless of campus. In Fall 2019, nearly 300 Penn State students will be able to attend GELE to grow their global leadership skills.

“My dream for the past six years has been to make this experience accessible to all students across the commonwealth,” said Campbell. “This vision will be realized in Fall 2019 when we host multiple GELEs across Pennsylvania.”

Every Penn State student will have the opportunity to experience a “safe and sacred space that has not been replicated for me ever since,” to quote Chuinkam.

“What is still clear, in hindsight," she said, "is that it was one of the best memories of my time at Penn State.”

For more information on GELE or to apply, visit

Last Updated March 26, 2019