Defining Student Leadership

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by Emma Schwendeman

Leadership is a highly-valued asset for today’s fast-paced world. Job applications scan for leadership qualities through a series of questions, personal statements, and cover letters. Teachers review resumes for graduate school applications on what leadership roles one held in an attempt to write top-notch reference letters.

However, there is no middle ground for leadership. You are seen either as a leader in the eyes of professionals, employers, and your peers, or you aren’t. This disparity with super-hero leaders to followers leaves many stressed and questioning how they can stand out in the picture.

With a multitude of student organizations on campus, Penn State does have the opportunities for leadership roles. There are a lot of incredible organizations, like THON in its work towards eradicating pediatric cancer, that need new, creative, top-notch individuals to achieve their goals.

Organizations work to weed and recruit those people through an ever-going process of elections, applications, and transitions each and every year. Positions may be generated if an organization notices a lack in tools for something. There are many ways that Penn State opens the door to be a leader. However, being designated a leader does not always equate to being a leader.

Therefore, our definition of leadership at Penn State needs revamped. Forget for a second about the presidents, vice-presidents, secretaries, and more being Penn State’s voice. Instead, think about the unknown leaders each and every day that arise.

They sit beside you in class, study the same materials as you, and struggle with what to do next. These people are the ones who attend general body meetings for organizations with questions and concerns at hand. They are the ones emailing administrators and fellow peers in hopes of bettering Penn State. They are the motivated, the collaborative, and the voices making change.

When I look back personally, the moment I was selected as a director for State of State was not the moment I gained leadership skills. Rather, it was through the constant trials-and-errors and unlimited efforts I made in my time as a “follower.” Attaining leadership experience shouldn’t end with the title, but rather with the motivation and dialogue for eminent change.


State of State is an annual conference presented by the Penn State community for the Penn State community. By bringing together innovative speakers and community leaders, State of State create a dialogue on the present and the future of the University. This post is part of a series of guest blogs from students involved in State of State.

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State of State

Founded in 2013, State of State is a student-run organization at Penn State University, committed to facilitating a dialogue within the university community about important Penn State-related issues. This dialogue culminates every year in a spring conference at which we bring together student, faculty, administration, alumni, and community leaders to speak about a variety of Penn State and State College topics, ranging from student life to mental health to town-and-gown relations. Our goal is to bring together passionate change-makers who can make our community stronger and more successful. Join this ongoing conversation “by Penn State, for Penn State” at our ​year-round special events and in February for our annual State of State conference.

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