PNC Foundation funds honors leadership assessment program

September 24, 2010

The PNC Foundation has stepped forward with a $250,000 grant to support Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College’s Leadership Assessment Center. The center, now in its third year of operation, conducts daylong business simulations designed to evaluate the participating students’ core competencies in such areas as communication, planning, adapting to changing situations, and problem solving. Nearly 50 honors students are expected to participate in the program in 2010-11.

The pledge by the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group, will provide $50,000 a year over a five-year period to support what will be called the PNC Leadership Assessment Center in the Schreyer Honors College. In addition to Schreyer Scholars, the program is open to members of the Presidential Leadership Academy, an enrichment program for select students that develops critical thinking skills, and to recipients of the Bunton-Waller Scholarships, which are awarded to high-achieving underrepresented students. Candidates will apply each semester for one of two scheduled assessment programs. Each program will evaluate up to 12 students.

"The caliber of training and development that this program offers undergraduates is equal to if not in some cases better than what companies have been known to pay a great deal for and provide to people that are 10-, 15-, or 20-year experienced employees,” said Robert D. Edwards, an executive vice president at PNC in Pittsburgh and a Penn State alumnus. “We are also pleased to support the inclusion of Bunton-Waller Scholars in the program. PNC recognizes the value of diversity in the workplace, and firmly believes that our support of Penn State's Leadership Assessment Center will also lead to the development of exceptional minority leaders. For all the students involved, this is just a fabulous opportunity to be exposed to some really good tools and techniques that will do them a lot of good no matter what they end up doing in their careers.”

“The assessment center is a concept that’s been around for 50 years,” said Rick Jacobs, a professor of psychology in the College of the Liberal Arts and the center’s founder. “If it’s good for corporate America, why wouldn’t it be good for those joining corporate America very soon? A program like this helps our students prepare to get jobs and be productive newcomers to their organization.”

Jacobs praised PNC’s support and said the fact that PNC executives have been involved with the center shows that this corporate partner has seen first-hand the value of this type of leadership development program.

“There are executives from PNC such as Bob Edwards who have been a part of this program from its beginning -- they’ve been involved as assessors evaluating student performance on assessment days, or they’ve visited and seen that it’s doing good things for our students,” Jacobs said. “This gift shows that we’re doing something that is important to the business community and that, to me, is part of our mission.”

The program involves preparation prior to the assessment day, including a self-assessment and review of the business scenario that will be conducted during the simulation. When students arrive the day of the assessment, they are to be prepared to come to work -- the simulation includes everything from being assigned office space and being scheduled for meetings to having to conduct a presentation and dealing with customers. The “customers” and others representing the company in the simulation are returning Penn State alumni and corporate friends who volunteer their professional expertise as assessors and are coached for the day’s role-play scenarios. The alumni assessors join with Penn State graduate students to form the team that conducts the evaluations and provides feedback to each center participant.

Sarah Hepler, a fourth-year Schreyer Scholar double majoring in psychology and labor studies and employment relations, said she was surprised at how “real” the assessment day felt when she participated last fall.

“There were three or four tasks, and the concept was you had to manage your time really well to stay on track and meet deadlines,” Sarah said. “I thought it was very realistic as to what a ‘real world’ work setting would be like when you’re juggling 50 things and having to prioritize. I really felt like I was at a job the whole time, which was very cool.”

Edwards, who has also served as an assessor, said that the simulation is effective for students regardless of their academic interest.

“It’s a good simulation of a work environment and the demands that you experience,” he said. “It’s very easy to compare the assessment program with a business environment but although the types of activities might vary, the stress and the challenges are consistent if you’re in engineering, if you’re teaching, if you’re in the medical profession. The need to be flexible, the need to get things done, communicating and interacting with people are all part of this. It’s not an easy day – these students get a lot coming at them over the course of the day. It’s a good representation of a hard day for the rest of us. You wouldn’t want to have five days in a row like that in a given week, but it’s a terrific learning experience for that one particular day.”

Christian M. M. Brady, the dean of the Schreyer Honors College, said that PNC’s pledge will allow the program to cement its position as one of the college’s signature programs.

“Giving our students the opportunity to experience the kind of leadership development that professionals many years their senior have yet to experience is the type of opportunity that Schreyer Scholars fully embrace, and it’s what helps set this college apart,” Brady said. “We are preparing our Scholars to be leaders, people who will shape the world throughout their careers. This program gives them a head start in developing their strengths to begin to achieve that.”

For more information about the Schreyer Honors College and the PNC Leadership Assessment Center, visit online.

To explore how your company might partner with this program and others at Penn State, visit online.

Last Updated January 10, 2014