Class of 2016 selected for Presidential Leadership Academy

May 09, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) announced the appointment of its new members for its class of 2016. Thirty students at the University Park campus will begin their involvement with the three-year program this coming fall. Founded with a lead gift from Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz in 2009, the 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.

Sixteen women and fourteen men comprise this new class and represent 10 of Penn State’s 12 undergraduate academic colleges. Twenty-one students from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, two from New Jersey, and one each from Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and the U.S. Virgin Islands join students from Taiwan, India and Spain. Three students speak at least three languages fluently, more than half have participated in research activities in their academic disciplines and all have volunteered their time and talents to organizations in high school or in their first year at Penn State.

The new PLA members have a variety of interests, from college- and major-specific associations to musical talents such as a cappella singing, band, glee club, piano and jazz ensemble. Involvement in THON, the Penn State Club Tennis team, Empowering Orphans, the Undergraduate Research Society and the Penn State Mock Trial team were listed as other activities, to name just a few.

“We are thrilled that students want to be a part of the Presidential Leadership Academy, and the drive and determination of this group of freshmen was evident in the quality of applications,” said Presidential Leadership Academy Director Melissa Doberstein. “Having diverse contributions and perspectives open opportunities for seeing how paths cross and connect, and that involvement must come from students of different genders, races, ethnicities and majors. It is exciting to see how our students develop and how the PLA helps them in that aspect by providing grants, networking opportunities and connecting them with alumni who have been in the program.”

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. During the 2015-16 academic year, members of the Presidential Leadership Academy traveled to Pittsburgh and the Flight 93 National Memorial in the fall and went on a weeklong tour of historic civil rights locations during spring break.

University President Eric Barron teaches a weekly seminar course in the student’s first year in the program with honors courses led by Schreyer Honors College Dean Christian Brady and Doberstein, as well as a class with a focus 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.

The Presidential Leadership Academy received a record 194 applications for the class of 2016 and approximately 60 individuals advanced to the interview portion of the process. The final group of 30 members was 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 also submit nominations for qualified students for membership in the Presidential Leadership Academy. Nominations are due at the end of January. Students may apply from December until the beginning of February of each academic year. The topics for the two required essay questions will be announced late in the fall semester.

To be considered, students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or above at the time of application and include a current résumé with campus or external leadership activities. 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, must be submitted with the application

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

The new Presidential Leadership Academy class of 2016 includes:

Oluwasanmi (Victor) Ariyo, Folcroft — College of Engineering
Kennedey Bell, Hudson, Ohio — College of Communications
Paul Birch, Indiana — Smeal College of Business
Christina Boutselis, Merion — College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Taylor Campbell-Phipps, State College — College of Health and Human Development
Matthew Driban, State College — Eberly College of Science and College of Information Sciences and Technology
Reilly Ebbs, State College — College of the Liberal Arts
Rachel Ebner, Wexford — College of the Liberal Arts and Smeal College of Business
Katy Gerace, Lansdale — College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Juan Gomez, Spain and Canada — College of Engineering
Krista Grennan, Succasunna, New Jersey — College of Agricultural Sciences and College of the Liberal Arts
Nakul Grover, New Delhi, India — College of Engineering
Jane Hatzell, Collinswood, New Jersey — College of Health and Human Development
Jack Iffert, Wayne — College of Engineering
Ryan Jaeger, Collegeville — Eberly College of Science
Nicholas Labecki, Camp Hill — College of the Liberal arts
Joash Lake, U.S. Virgin Islands — Eberly College of Science
Daniel Lee, Cary, North Carolina — College of the Liberal Arts and Smeal College of Business
Andy Luo, State College — College of Engineering and College of Information Sciences and Technology
Hayley Legenfelder, Johnstown — Smeal College of Business
Cecilia Mabilais-Estevez, Berwyn — College of the Liberal Arts
Colleen McBride, Flourtown — Smeal College of Business
Symone McCollum, Philadelphia — College of Education
Natalia Nigay, Philadelphia — College of Engineering and College of the Liberal Arts
Dean Pandelaras, Camp Hill — College of Engineering
Kandice Pettaway, Greenbelt, Maryland — College of Engineering
Olivia Richards, Wilkes-Barre — Eberly College of Science
William Swart, West Chester — Smeal College of Business
Mi Ni Tzou, Taiwan — College of the Liberal Arts
Erika Veiszlemlein, Bath — Smeal College of Business

Last Updated June 22, 2016