By Phil Szymanowski
After one and a half hours in the infamous Penn State Lehigh Valley vans, having driven through the rolling hills and vast green landscape of the Pennsylvania countryside, we finally arrived at Penn State Harrisburg, a campus, on the surface, immensely different from the atmosphere PSU-LV students have come to know and love. A parking lot the size of our quaint campus, bustling with fellow Penn-Staters, enveloped us, the campus’ imposing main building welcoming us to the Capitol city. The innate pride of each of the other Commonwealth Campuses was immediately apparent. Penn State Berks even had their own shirts- black polo’s with bright pink, cursive writing. After checking into the apartments and dropping off our luggage, we made our way over to the CUB, or Capitol Union Building, to kick off what we had traveled here for: the Penn State Summer Leadership Conference.
This annual three day, Penn State funded event was created to:
- Create a sense of self-awareness through identifying personal leadership style and values
- Demonstrate communication skills and the ability to motivate others
- Gain knowledge and awareness of diversity including identities, cultures, and society
- Enhance awareness and commitment toward effective citizenship and social responsibility
The Conference would consist of multiple sessions: three general sessions involving everyone invited to the conference and featuring important keynote speakers, and educational sessions focused on teaching leadership skills specific to the session (for example, organizational leadership or personal leadership). There were also Pride Group sessions, which enabled us to understand the differences in people’s values compared to our own, as well as how important our initial impact on a person can be.
In the first general session, after a brief introduction from Penn State Harrisburg’s chancellor, we heard from Mark Butler, the founder and CEO of Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. He spoke about his company, how it came to be, and explained how his leadership abilities led Ollie’s to where it is today.
Tuesday’s schedule was overflowing with events as it was the main day of the conference. We began the day with a hearty breakfast and then, while I attended the President’s meeting, the other students attended the first educational session, which focused on personal goals and how to achieve them. The next two educational sessions consisted of team-building activities, the importance of diversity, a Robert’s Rules training session, and civic leadership activities. There was a second general session, in which we were separated into three groups, and were asked to pick poker chips from a bag, each color representing a designated amount of money. After a round of trading chips with other students, your chip “totals” were tallied and you were given an economic class. Once placed in that class the process was repeated, and your class was again determined. The goal of this exercise was to demonstrate the difficulty in moving up the social ladder and the probability of either staying in your social class, or moving down the ladder.
Following the thought provoking general session, we had a fun and friendly campus competition. The events included a bath tub race, a water brigade, and a “Boot Camp” obstacle course. The campus with the shortest collective time for all events won the competition. Continuing with the theme of campus pride, a, “Pride Dinner,” rallied us all together in support of our home campus. Some of the challenges were a campus spirit competition and a fast-paced scavenger hunt. At the end of the dinner, we all rallied together as one University. Again, evening fell and planned evening activities ensued (An open mic night, a “Pancake Palooza,” and board games).
After breakfast the next morning, the final general session began with John Vroman, a vibrant speaker about college life and how to make the most of it. Following Mr. Vroman, we all said goodbye to the people we met and the friends we made. It was then that I came to one very important realization: Although we are all geographically separated, we are all one university. We may compete against each other in sports or academics, we may reside in different parts of the state, and we may all come from drastically different backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common.
In the end, WE ARE All… Penn State.
(Photo credits: Angela Awad and Tiff Cresswell-Yeager)