Undergraduates honored with Rock Ethics Institute 2015 Stand Up Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — See something that’s wrong in the world? Do something about it and help others — that’s the common motto for this year’s Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up honorees. Penn State students Melissa McCleery, Carolyn McDonald and Parker Werns are being honored respectively for their work in helping to prevent sexual violence; poverty; and discrimination against the LGBT community.

The Penn State Rock Ethics Institute created the Stand Up Award in 2008 to honor Penn State undergraduate students who have the courage and fortitude to take an ethical stand for a person, cause or belief and thereby demonstrate ethical leadership.

"With this award, we celebrate students who honor their convictions by standing up for what they believe is right," said Sarah Clark Miller, acting director of the Rock Ethics Institute. "Through their individual stories, they teach us all about the importance of ethical leaders who rise to the challenge of living and acting with everyday courage in an increasingly complicated world.” 

Carolyn McDonald 2015 Stand Up Award Recipient

Penn State student and 2015 Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up Award recipient Carolyn McDonald, right, in Haiti.

Image: Penn State

“For me it's Haiti, but for others it could be State College. We all need to be a voice for people who need to be spoken up for, no matter what cause you're Standing Up for.”

-- Carolyn McDonald

At the age of 15, Carolyn McDonald took her first trip to a Haiti orphanage during the food riots of 2008. She saw firsthand what the lack of food and poor nutrition can do to a society, especially to children.

McDonald witnessed children on the street begging for food and teenage mothers unable to care for themselves or their children. These experiences had a profound impact on her life.

Since then, she has traveled to Haiti ten times, bringing with her recruits from not only Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania, but also students from Syracuse University in New York. With these recruits she started an initiative called “Agripreneurs of Haiti” in which members of the group educate students in Haiti about various agricultural practices that will help increase food production and nutrition. Her tireless efforts have helped many people and she urges everyone to stand up for what they believe. 

“For me it's Haiti, but for others it could be State College,” McDonald explained.  "We all need to be a voice for people who need to be spoken up for, no matter what cause you're Standing Up for.” 

After spending three years at Penn State studying community, environment and development with an international option, McDonald will move to Haiti with the skills needed to help her fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a development leader to help eliminate poverty. 

Photo of Melissa McCleery, a 2015 Stand Up Honoree

Melissa McCleery, Penn State student and 2015 Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up Award recipient

Image: Penn State

“The most rewarding parts of my activism have been when a survivor has come to me and explained how I helped them to seek help, or when a bystander has told me that my work has inspired them to reach out to someone, to intervene or to join the fight against sexual violence."

-- Melissa McCleery

In the spring of her freshman year, Melissa McCleery put into motion what would frame her days at Penn State — she successfully ran for a seat in student government and decided to pursue her interests in women’s studies.

McCleery's work with student government helped her build relationships with Penn State administrators and the women’s studies course helped her learn how to verbalize, articulate and see that there were others in the world that felt the way she did.

After spending some time working on academic affairs within the student government, McCleery knew that she wanted to become the voice of those who were victims of sexual assault. Because of her position in student government, she was invited to become a student member on the President's Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment. Her work on this provided 18 recommendations that Penn State President Eric Barron has accepted.

“The most rewarding parts of my activism have been when a survivor has come to me and explained how I helped them to seek help, or when a bystander has told me that my work has inspired them to reach out to someone, to intervene or to join the fight against sexual violence,” said McCleery. 

She also found time to chair the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) Sexual Violence and Awareness Roundtable that brought together student and community groups to help coordinate programing and activism to combat sexual violence, and planned activities for UPUA Sexual Violence Awareness Week in April 2015.

Additionally, she worked with University Police to alter crime prevention tips on the timely warnings that go out through the PSU Alert system in the event of a sexual assault so that the tips are more educational and preventative rather than about risk reduction. 

Her work culminated with a presentation on the culture of sexism at Penn State during the 2015 State of State conference held at University Park. 

Penn State student Parker Werns

Parker Werns, Penn State student and 2015 Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up Award recipient

Image: Penn State

“Many trans or queer people face incredible difficulties and risks when coming out. I believed that it was in part my duty as an activist to be a visible queer student leader working to promote change.”

-- Parker Werns

Parker Werns is a transgender student who is using his experience to help other people in the queer community at Penn State.

Early in his Penn State career, Werns saw the need for someone to stand up for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Rather than wait for the next person to do so, he led the charge and filled those shoes.

“Many trans or queer people face incredible difficulties and risks when coming out," Werns said. “I believed that it was in part my duty as an activist to be a visible queer student leader working to promote change.”

Werns was nominated to the student concerns chair on the President’s Commission on LGBT Equity his junior year. In working with the rest of the commission, Werns helped to craft a formal policy detailing the University’s commitment to work with vendors that match the morals of Penn State. He also helped to draft a policy to help ensure that transgender men and women have multiple unisex restrooms across campus. Within this role, he also worked with all of the Penn State Commonwealth Campuses to consolidate their existing LGBTQ resources so that individuals at those campuses have a place to go for both information and support. Additionally, his work with the Commonwealth Campuses brought to light how few resources are available on LGBTQ issues. These efforts made Penn State more accessible and equitable to queer students across the Commonwealth.

"A common work ethic between all of the Stand Up honorees is a willingness to make the global community a better place," said Michael Burroughs, acting associate director of the Rock Ethics Institute. "These three honorees join an elite group of ethical leaders and we’re proud to honor them."

More information about the honorees and the Stand Up Award can be found at www.StandUpPSU.com.

The Stand Up Award is one of many programs organized by the Rock Ethics Institute, which promotes the integration of ethics across the Penn State curriculum and supports innovative interdisciplinary ethical research, teaching and outreach. The institute supports ethics-based curriculum development for new courses and the addition of ethical dimensions to existing courses; organizes faculty resources and seminars on ethics education; and sponsors conferences, lecture series and research projects on key themes in bioethics, ethics education, leadership, climate change, and the critical philosophy of race. More information about the institute is available at www.RockEthics.psu.edu.

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Last Updated May 19, 2016