Presidential Leadership Academy selects 2017 class

Thirty rising sophomores appointed to three-year program

The members of the Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy Class of 2017. Credit: Presidential Leadership AcademyAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) announced the appointment of its new members for its class of 2017. Thirty students at the University Park campus will begin their involvement with the three-year program this coming fall. Founded with a lead gift from Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz in 2009, the PLA 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.

Seventeen men and 13 women comprise this new class and represent 11 of Penn State’s 12 undergraduate academic colleges. Fifteen students from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, three from Virginia, two from New Jersey, two from New York, two from Massachusetts, two from California, and one from Georgia join students from Iran, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. 

The new PLA members have a variety of interests, from interning with U.S. representatives to working in research labs like the Perry Anthropological Genomics Laboratory, the Paulson Laboratory and the PIKE Research Lab; to involvement in organizations like THON, the Schreyer Honors College Student Council, the Millennium Scholars Program or the varsity men’s volleyball team. They volunteer at places like Centre County PAWS and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center and participate in Army ROTC, Global Medical Brigades, and Pennharmonics.

“We are thrilled that students want to be a part of the Presidential Leadership Academy, and the drive and determination of this group of freshmen was evident in the quality of applications,” said Presidential Leadership Academy Director Melissa Doberstein. “Having diverse contributions and perspectives open opportunities for seeing how paths cross and connect, and that involvement must come from students of different genders, races, ethnicities, political spectrums and majors. It is exciting to see how our students develop and how the PLA helps them in that aspect by providing grants and networking opportunities, and connecting them with alumni who have been in the program.”

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 a broader prospective on social, political and environmental issues. During the 2016-17 academic year, members of the Presidential Leadership Academy traveled to New York in the fall and to Seattle and Gettysburg in the spring.

University President Eric Barron teaches a weekly seminar course in the student’s first year in the program with honors courses led by the dean of the Schreyer Honors College and Doberstein, as well as a class with a focus on critical thinking. The final year concludes with a capstone experience and creation of an e-portfolio.

The Presidential Leadership Academy 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.

The Presidential Leadership Academy received 170 applications for the class of 2017 and approximately 60 individuals advanced to the interview portion of the process. The final group of 30 members was selected after a review of their accomplishments and academic performance and assessment of their interviews.

In addition to student-submitted applications, Penn State faculty and staff also submit nominations for qualified students for membership in the Presidential Leadership Academy. Nominations are due at the end of January. Students may apply from December until the beginning of February of each academic year. The topics for the two required essay questions will be announced late in the fall semester.

To be considered, students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or above at the time of application and include a current resume with campus or external leadership activities. Two letters of reference, one from a Penn State faculty member, staff member or adviser and one in regard to external activities from someone such as a coach, mentor or supervisor, must be submitted with the application.

For more information on Penn State’s Presidential Leadership Academy, visit

The new Presidential Leadership Academy class of 2017 includes:

Audrey Arner – Stafford, Virginia; Eberly College of Science

Thomas Beeby – Cape May, New Jersey; College of the Liberal Arts

Brigette Cannata – Staten Island, New York; Eberly College of Science

Ryan Christenson – Needham Heights, Massachusetts; Smeal College of Business

Dennis Fisher – Manassas, Virginia; College of Education

Bryel Frasch – Ashland; Eberly College of Science

Ryan Fritz – Honesdale; College of Engineering

Kathleen Gergel – West Chester; College of Communications

Jake Griggs – Port Matilda; Division of Undergraduate Studies  

Olivia Gude – Atlanta, Georgia; College of Communications

Tara Hally – Fairfax Station, Virginia; Smeal College of Business

Benjamin Hartleb – Erie; College of Engineering

Helia Hosseinpour – Kingston, Pennsylvania and Iran; College of the Liberal Arts

Raymond Hoy – Conshohocken; College of Engineering

Bailey MacDowell – Lancaster; College of Information Sciences and Technology

Grace Miller – Hershey; College of Information Sciences and Technology 

Emmy Muhoza – Kigali, Rwanda; College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Caleb Musekiwa – Mount Darwin, Zimbabwe; College of Engineering

Jason Ogden – Port Matilda; Division of Undergraduate Studies

Samantha Olson – Holland; College of Nursing

Elijah Reber – Wernersville; College of Engineering

Tomas Sanchez – Philadelphia; College of the Liberal Arts 

Natasha Schlaffer – Simi Valley, California; College of Arts and Architecture 

Emma Sinkoff – Richmond, Massachusetts; College of Health and Human Development

Nathan Smith – Los Altos, California; Eberly College of Science

Cory Steinle – Beaver Falls; College of the Liberal Arts 

Alisa Vasquez – Washingtonville, New York; College of Communications

Ian Wasserman – Mount Laurel, New Jersey; College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Kyle Wetzler – Harleysville; College of Engineering

Daniel Zahn – Allentown; College of the Liberal Arts

Last Updated June 21, 2017