Presidential Leadership Academy selects 30 new members

May 06, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Thirty Students at the Penn State University Park campus were selected as new members of the University’s Presidential Leadership Academy and will begin their involvement with the three-year program this upcoming fall. Founded with a lead gift from Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz in 2009, the Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) was established with the goal of developing critical thinking skills and educating students to understand issues broadly with consideration for the complexity and variability of world matters, decisions and life’s circumstances.

Seventeen women and 13 men comprise this new class with a range of interests and activities that include student government and leadership associations, civic and charitable programs, athletics, music and involvement with academic and discipline-specific societies. The PLA Class of 2015 includes representatives from 10 of Penn State’s undergraduate academic colleges, 21 students from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, two from Virginia and Maryland, and one each from Illinois, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, and students from Paraguay and India. Eight students in this new class are fluent in at least two languages.

Each student brings unique experiences and perspectives to the Presidential Leadership Academy and will interact with their classmates as well as with those PLA members in their second and third years of the program.

“We want our class to be diverse in all aspects: majors, backgrounds, where they are from and ethnicity as we want to have a dynamic discussion in the classroom,” said Presidential Leadership Academy Director Melissa Doberstein. “We were looking for students who are committed to developing their leadership skills, who can think on their feet, who can think internally and who are aware of current events, politics and global and campus issues.”

In addition to coursework for the program, students attend leadership seminars, engage in community programs and participate in fully-funded field trips planned each academic semester to give students a broader prospective on social, political and environmental issues. University President Eric Barron teaches a weekly seminar course in the student’s third year in the program with honors courses led by Schreyer Honors College Dean Christian Brady and Doberstein, as well as a class on critical thinking. The final year concludes with a capstone experience and creation of an e-portfolio.

The Presidential Leadership Academy fosters an environment that promotes and develops values critical for potential leaders including civility, philanthropy, respect for diversity and student engagement. Within this academic community of students, faculty and administrators, multiple dimensions of issues are explored, diverse viewpoints are encouraged and heard and a fully informed and respectful discourse ensues that leads to sound action.

More than 160 students expressed interest in becoming part of the PLA Class of 2015. Approximately 60 individuals advanced to the interview portion of the process with the final 30 selected after a review of their accomplishments and academic performance and assessment of their interviews.

In addition to student-submitted applications, Penn State faculty and staff may also nominate qualified students for membership in the Presidential Leadership Academy. Students must possess a grade point average of 3.2 or above and submit a current resume with campus or external leadership activities, provide two letters of reference, one from a Penn State faculty member, staff member or adviser and one in regard to external activities from someone such as a coach, mentor or supervisor. Two essays are required with the topics to be provided at a later date. Nominations are due in January of each year with applications due at the beginning of February.

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

The new Presidential Leadership Academy Class of 2015 includes:

Abigail Baker, Norman, Oklahoma – College of Agricultural Sciences
John Barczynski, Wexford– College of Engineering
Sarah Bastian, State College – College of the Liberal Arts
Peter Chan, Pittsburgh –Smeal College of Business
Zachary Cohen, Warrington – Smeal College of Business
Candice Crutchfield, Woodbridge, Virginia – College of the Liberal Arts
Alejandro Cuevas, Cuidad del Este, Paraguay – College of Engineering
Madison Day, Bushwood, Maryland – College of Health and Human Development
Erika Exton, Horesham – College of Health and Human Disorders
Brenna Fisher, Manassas, Virginia – College of the Liberal Arts
Rachel Fleischer, Las Vegas, Nevada – College of Liberal Arts/College of Arts & Architecture
Alayna Kennedy, Fourtown – College of Engineering
Kelsey Kretzer, Orland Park, Illinois – College of Communications/College of Arts & Architecture
Caleb Kwok, New York, New York – Smeal College of Business
Hanna Leonard, Blue Bell – College of Health and Human Development
Alexander McCollom, Reamstown –Smeal College of Business
Marta Millar, State College – College of the Liberal Arts
Indigo Murray, Tobyhanna  – College of the Liberal Arts
Stella Murray, Bryn Mawr – College of the Liberal Arts/College of Arts and Architecture
Sumit Pareek, Bensalem – College of Engineering
Akshilkumar Patel, Audubon (India) – Eberly College of Science
Brent Rice, Quakertown – Smeal College of Business/College of the Liberal Arts
Matthew Root, Havertown – Division of Undergraduate Studies
Adam Rutter, York – College of Engineering
Alexander Shockley, Snow Hill, Maryland – College of the Liberal Arts/College of Health and Human Development
Tessa Sontheimer, Gettysburg – College of the Liberal Arts
Rhea Sullivan, Landisville – Eberly College of Science
Madison Taylor, Pittsburgh – Eberly College of Science
Isabella Teti, Pine Grove Mills  – College of the Liberal Arts
Frederick Zheng, State College – Smeal College of Business

Last Updated May 12, 2016