Presidential Leadership Academy students broaden their horizons in the nation’s capital


WASHINGTON – Each semester, the Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) organizes trips to various regions of the United States to hone critical thinking skills and expand the portfolio of student leadership experiences. In September, PLA students traveled to Washington DC, to hear a variety of speakers, immerse themselves in the city’s cultural hotspots, visit museums and bond with their cohort.

Discuss politics

The students attended a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank in the heart of DC. The students heard from a variety of speakers and asked tough questions ranging from American demographics to Middle Eastern foreign policy. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) shared some of his most memorable and inspiring experiences working in the Senate.

Later that day, the students had the chance to interact with former Penn State student Ben Howard at the White House Legislative Affairs Office, while enjoying dinner at District Chop House. The next morning began with an in-depth chat with Penn State alumnus Laura Rosenberger and the mayor’s deputy general counsel Karuna Seshasai, who spoke to the students about their careers and work in Washington, DC The students also visited Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage to walk through some of the tough decisions Lincoln made during his tenure as President of the United States.


One of the highlights of the trip was visiting students at IBM and networking with Penn State alumnus Greg Souchack, vice president of the company’s global business services. The presentation was hosted by PLA and Schreyer Honors College Alayna Kennedy, Cognitive Consultant in IBM’s Federal Practice in Washington, DC Students learned about some of IBM’s latest technology and asked them about the engagement of the company to produce world-class solutions.

“It was nice to have the group on the alumni side,” Kennedy said. “I was able to merge my identities as PLAer and IBMer while sharing my experience with current students. It was a joy.

To end the day and continue to celebrate the work of PLA alumni, former student Sara Silversmith, a graphic designer with exhibits at the Holocaust Museum and Lincoln’s Cottage, shared the risks she took after graduating and how they led her to unexpected success. Afterwards, current academy members joined Silversmith and eight other PLA alumni for dinner to watch Penn State take on Maryland. This was followed by bowling at Pinstripes Bowling and Bocce.

Young connoisseurs of culture

PLA students toured the John F. Kennedy Center of Performing Arts, heard from Deborah Rutter, the organization’s president, and toured the campus to visit several highlights.

All museum tours are designed to hone students’ cultural understanding of the city they visit each semester. The students visited the Holocaust Museum, the Newseum, and the National Museum of American History.

“Overall, although devastating, the Holocaust museum was a highlight of the trip,” said Siena Baker, a junior specializing in economics and community, environment and development. “The way we present and speak about our collective and individual stories is so important and it is essential to enrich our knowledge and understanding of this story. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the museum and discuss it with my peers, especially those of the Jewish faith for whom it resonates even deeper and louder.

An exclusive visit inside the Smithsonian National Zoo marked the start of the last day of the trip. PLA students overheard Drew Portocarrero, Senior Major Gifts Officer, talk about zoological preservation.

For the second year class, the trip allowed students to introduce themselves to the cohort and get a taste of the PLA. For juniors and seniors, the trip was an opportunity to strengthen ties within the cohort. The senior class visited DC in their sophomore year, so the trip gave the seniors a chance to reflect on their PLA journey.

“Through these trips, I have developed lasting and genuine friendships with people who have supported my efforts, challenged my perspectives, and with whom I have grown and learned throughout my three years at the APL. “said Emma Sinkoff, senior. specializing in health policy and administration.

The PLA’s previous trips have included visits to Los Angeles, New York, Puerto Rico, Seattle, Chicago, Pittsburgh. Philadelphia, New Orleans and the Grand Canyon.

How to register

Applications for the Presidential Leadership Academy will open in early December. To be considered, prospective first year students must have a GPA of 3.2 or above at the time of application. They should include an up-to-date curriculum vitae with the campus that showcases external leadership activities. Two letters of reference, one from a faculty member, staff member, or Penn State advisor, and one regarding the outside activities of a person such as a coach, a mentor or supervisor, must be submitted with the application.

In addition to applications submitted by students, faculty and staff at Penn State also submit applications to students qualified to become members of the Presidential Leadership Academy. Applications are expected at the end of January. Students can apply from December to early February of each academic year. Topics for the two mandatory essay questions will be announced at the end of the fall semester.

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


Kevin E. Boling

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