The Presidential Leadership Academy was founded in 2009 by Penn State alumni and benefactors Edward (Ed) and Helen Hintz and former president Graham Spanier with the goal of developing students' critical thinking skills and leadership capacity. This process is achieved by student involvement in classes, special events, field trips, and a mentorship program, all of which prepare students to encounter the complex problems presented in today's world. Classes in particular look at how to understand arguments, access reasoning, and distinguish the finer points of language. Since its founding, the PLA has sent students on two trips every year to locations like the Grand Canyon, Pittsburgh, and Puerto Rico, and has welcomed numerous speakers. Today, the PLA accepts 30 new sophomores every year for a total enrollment of 90 and holds strong to its goal of creating leaders.
The combination of in class and out of class learning opportunities are crucial components to shaping well rounded leaders — they provide students with opportunities to discuss productively and see how conversations in a gray world manifest in the working world.