Student Engagement Network encourages students to help change the world

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State undergraduate Jon Westlake says the time he has spent working with Reflexion, a startup company that trains and tests athletes’ brains, has been the highlight of his college career so far.  

“I make my own education instead of having one handed to me,” said Westlake, who is completing the science B.S./MBA program run through the Eberly College of Science and Smeal College of Business. 

Westlake’s work with Reflexion was made possible by Penn State’s Student Engagement Network, which awarded him grants for two consecutive summers. The Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations learned about the network’s efforts to connect students with empowering engagement experiences at its May 3 meeting at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. 

The committee heard from two of the Student Engagement Network’s interns, Jessica Malerman and Jorge Zurita-Coronado. Malerman, who is graduating with a degree in communication arts and sciences, spoke about the importance of her work as executive director of the State of State conference as well as her experience studying abroad in Vienna.  

“I knew I was choosing a broad major and I needed something else,” she said. “I needed those opportunities outside the classroom. I think I was looking for more of an understanding of myself.” 

Malerman said that when she interviews for jobs, she spends most of the time talking about her out-of-the-classroom experiences, including managing State of State’s $50,000 budget, meeting with administrators and leading a 40-person team. As a result of those experiences, “I feel prepared to manage high-stress, fast-moving situations in the workplace,” she said. “My decision-making skills have grown exponentially.” 

The network helps connect students with engagement experiences such as internships, research projects, volunteer work, study abroad, interactions with student organizations, civic engagement and faculty-led coursework. 

The network’s goal is to position students to help solve critical problems at the local, regional, national and global level and, at the same time, help them gain crucial career skills, director Mike Zeman said. 

“We’re challenging students to move past GPA and credit hours and examine the currency of future employers and world problems -- namely, the skills, attributes, values and attitudes you gain in the field,” Zeman said. 

“Employers want students who can think critically, who can problem solve, who exemplify good communication skills, who are leaders. Student engagement hinges on those types of skills.” 

Five student interns based at the network’s Engagement Space in the HUB-Robeson Center spread the word to fellow students about engagement opportunities, while five faculty fellows receive funding to develop models for student engagement in courses and fieldwork.  

Zeman said the grant program is the most effective way so far that the network has been able to increase engagement opportunities across the Commonwealth. More than 1,000 students have applied for grants from the network since the grant program began last summer, and over $400,000 has been awarded to 297 successful applicants. The average award is about $1,300 per student. 

Grant recipients are encouraged to reflect deeply on their engagement experiences and to share those experiences with other Penn State students 

Westlake, who now works for Reflexion full time while going to school, said his grants from the network “gave me an opportunity to learn in a way I don’t think I would have been able to if I didn’t get the financial support.” 

“People go to college to learn, and for some people that’s sitting in a lecture hall,” he said. “For me it’s really been the opportunity to think and create on my feet.” 

It’s important to him to be doing work that makes people’s lives better, the 20-year-old Westlake said. Among other things, Reflexion collects data that can help determine whether an athlete has had a concussion. 

 “That’s something that I think Penn State is doing a great job of instilling in this next generation of students,” he said. “You’re not going out there just to make money, you’re going out there to change the world.” 

The Student Engagement Network is a joint initiative of Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs and Outreach and Online Education at Penn State. The mission of the Student Engagement Network is to advance the power of participation by connecting students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact as citizens and leaders of the world. 

For more information about the Student Engagement Network, visit engage.psu.edu or email engage@psu.edu

 

Last Updated May 03, 2018