College of Education students among Presidential Leadership Academy participants

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Each spring, 30 freshmen on the University Park campus learn they’ve climbed to the top of a highly competitive selection process to be part of the next second-year Presidential Leadership class. Academy (PLA).

“We had 161 applications this year and all colleges are represented [in the incoming class]”said Melissa Doberstein, director of the Presidential Leadership Academy.

Valarie Hibbard, a freshman at the College of Education, is thrilled to have been included in this elite group.

“To be selected for the next PLA class is a fantastic honor, and I am so honored to have been chosen for this experience,” said Hibbard. “This is a unique opportunity to learn more about leadership and acquire the skills that will allow me to make a difference not only in my community, but possibly in my future career. I am given the chance to learn to navigate a difficult and ever-changing world and to learn how to work effectively and efficiently with others.

Hibbard, who also plays the trumpet in the Penn State Blue Band, joins Ashley Griffith, another College of Education student and Blue Band percussionist, in the PLA. Griffith is a fourth year student, entering her final year of the three-year PLA program.

“Being in the PLA means I can have deep, real conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds,” Griffith said. “I am constantly impressed and challenged by the people and topics covered in the APL. “

Griffith said participating in the PLA requires a high level of critical thinking.

“I was able to shatter my preconceived notions of the world to recognize that every problem or situation has multiple angles. I can see more of these angles, angles that I never would have seen before, from my classmates, ”she said.

Aside from both being students at the College of Education and both at Blue Band, Hibbard and Griffith share one thing in common that led them to apply for the PLA: people who believed in themselves. Griffith’s freshman seminar instructor Emil Cunningham suggested she apply based on her results in her class.

“Around the same time, during a Blue Band rehearsal, I was standing alone on the sidelines of the training ground. Dr Buzminski (Dr Buz), the band’s percussion instructor and arranger, came to me and said, “There is leadership in you,” and left, ”Griffith said. “People don’t realize the impact their words have on you, but Dr Cunningham and Dr Buz believe in me and see potential in me that really made me apply. I have kept what Dr Buz has said ever since and still try to believe in myself.

Hibbard heard about PLA through Student Council of Education (ESC) chairperson Taylor Marie Young, who shared information with board members and encouraged freshmen to apply.

“Taylor also supported me throughout the process and always sent me the most encouraging texts. She was one of the first people to celebrate with me when I found out I had walked in,” said Hibbard.

“People don’t realize the impact their words have on you, but Dr Cunningham and Dr Buz believe in me and see potential in me really made me apply. I have kept what Dr Buz has said ever since and still try to believe in myself.

– Ashley Griffith, Student, College of Education

College of Education Dean Kimberly Lawless also celebrated with Hibbard. Lawless first met Hibbard at the freshman seminar she co-taught last fall.

“Valarie was always seated in the front row of our class and I could always count on her to contribute to the discussions in a very thoughtful and informed manner. Then Valarie joined ESC and got very involved in college life, and I saw how quickly she immersed herself in the work of this group, ”Lawless said. “I am convinced that Valarie’s involvement with the APL will help her work better with the students, parents and teachers that she will meet as a future educator.

Suzanne Brokloff, Hibbard Academic Advisor as well as ESC Co-Advisor, said: “From the day she accepted her offer at Penn State, Valarie has repeatedly shown how she takes initiative, supports others and embraces the ‘We are’ spirit. She inspires others and shows many qualities that PLA will help develop even more fully. She has already taken the lead a few times this year to serve on various committees within ESC and has definitely made a positive impression and made a name for herself in this organization.

A third College of Education student, Maude Tarbox, has just completed the program.

“Being a part of PLA has been an amazing experience,” said Tarbox. “I was challenged to think from new perspectives, to defend my ideas and to work collaboratively with those who have different opinions. I was able to learn about myself and others through classroom and non-classroom experiences. To me, that means I’m taking real action to create a better me and a better state of Pennsylvania. The APL has made me a more informed citizen, a stronger leader and an empathetic friend.

Hibbard looks forward to immersing himself in the opportunities offered by the PLA. Griffith and Tarbox both know what to expect.

“What struck me the most during my second year was having lessons with the president [Eric] Barron, ”Griffith said. “He spoke openly about the issues facing our university and universities across the country. We look at leadership and decision making through his eyes, and in doing so, we have learned to better assess issues and biases. President Barron, I believe, is also learning from members of the class. “

Last year Griffith interned for the PLA, working closely with Doberstein to create a lineup and work to select the next class of PLA members.

“We worked with unique challenges while also being virtual to try to build community and give academy members and alumni the chance to engage in professional development and home wellness. I am currently majoring in public education policy and plan to go to a graduate school for higher education administration and leadership, so being able to see the inner workings of the PLA has has been a very valuable experience for me, ”said Griffith.

As a fourth year student this fall, Griffith looks forward to working closely with her PLA Alumni Mentor to prepare to apply for graduate school.

“I also look forward to hopefully another integrated trip to the PLA,” Griffith said. “These trips are very valuable experiences to see leadership in action in other places across the country. It builds on the work we do in our PLA courses and gives us totally unique professional experiences. Travel also allows me to connect with PLA members outside of my cohort and learn more about their way of seeing the world.

Tarbox said his membership in the PLA has enabled him to become a more intentional, balanced and thoughtful person.

“There are so many moments, lessons and memories from PLA that I will keep with me for years to come. From captivating speakers, fun dinners and unforgettable field trips, those memories are hard to narrow down to a few favorites, ”she said. “As an educator, I am more of a confident teacher because I am equipped with the skills to create a classroom environment where respect is a cornerstone and intolerance becomes unacceptable. “

Griffith and Tarbox have some advice for Hibbard as she enters her first year in the program.

“The best advice I have for Valarie in PLA would be to be yourself in class. Everyone comes to class with their beliefs and perspectives, and it’s worth having yours. In PLA, it’s not about “speaking out loud” and it’s not about agreeing. PLA is about being real, vulnerable and honest in a confusing world, ”Griffith said.

She added: “Another tip would be to ask questions. As education majors, we know that the only way to become better versions of ourselves and for others is to become educated and educate others. Always seek understanding and knowledge, even if it does not lead to a concrete answer.

Tarbox said: “I would first like to offer Valarie my sincere congratulations. I am very happy to see more students from the College of Education joining PLA. The best advice I can give her is to say “yes” to as many APA opportunities as she can over the next three years, including being present at class discussions, spending time with her classmates. , dining with the Hintzes and taking field trips. “

She continued, “There are endless opportunities within the PLA, but you have to invest your time. I have never looked back once I said yes, and now I have amazing memories and friendships that I will always cherish.

Founded with a principal endowment from Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz in 2009, the PLA was established with the aim of developing critical thinking skills and educating students to understand problems at large taking into account the complexity and variability of issues, decisions and life circumstances, ie “gray areas”Global and local decisions.

To be considered, prospective first year students must have a GPA of 3.2 or above at the time of application. For more information on Penn State’s Presidential Leadership Academy, visit

Kevin E. Boling

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