Three Arts and Architecture students named to Presidential Leadership Academy

College of Arts and Architecture incoming second-year students Jackie Zheng, Architecture; Alex Almonte, Music Education; and David Hutchinson, Music Education, have been selected for the prestigious Presidential Leadership Academy, where students work with Penn State President Eric Barron to build leadership skills while advancing the University’s domestic and global impact goals.

Each year, Penn State chooses 30 exemplary first-year students to serve on the PLA during their second year. Almonte, Hutchinson and Zheng were selected from more than 160 applicants, based on their critical-thinking ability, communication skills and diverse viewpoints.

“We are grateful that President Barron and the selection team clearly value the leadership potential of artists, performers and designers,” said Kendall Mainzer, director of student engagement for the College of Arts and Architecture. “Our students are disciplined, bold decision makers, and the students who are lucky enough to be selected for the PLA undoubtably represent our values as a college.”

The PLA, established in 2009, fosters an environment where students of diverse backgrounds advance their critical-thinking skills to confront highly nuanced problems in our community and globally. The academy members call this “thinking in the gray.”

In the fall, the 30 students selected will begin their PLA journey with a seminar class with Barron, something academy members have done since it was founded by Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz 12 years ago.

Mainzer and Kyrie Harding, the college’s academic advising manager, work throughout the year to identify eligible students and to support them throughout the application process, which includes one-on-one and group interviews.

Under the leadership of Mainzer and Harding, seven College of Arts and Architecture students have been named to the PLA over the last two years, which Mainzer said acknowledges students in the arts as invaluable critical thinkers and leaders.

For more information on the PLA, including the members for 2021, visit