The following are my comments opening this year’s Schreyer Conference.
Welcome to the 2011 Schreyer Conference. This year’s theme is “Academic Contributions to Student Leadership Development.”
In one of my first meetings with Mr. William A. Schreyer, a proud Penn Stater and former president and CEO of Merrill Lynch, Mr. Schreyer was telling me about his motivation in providing the funds to establish the Schreyer Honors College. He emphasized the importance of raising up the leaders of tomorrow and, he said, “God knows we need more good leaders!”
Those words echo in my head daily. On a day like yesterday, when we all paused to remember what happened a decade ago and consider how our country has progressed in the decade since and wonder how we will move forward in the decade to come. We need good leaders.
Or when we consider Mr. Schreyer’s own field, that of finance. As the credit default swap debacle pulled down the world’s economy I read many articles asking where this generation’s Bill Schreyer was to be found. You see, he helped bring Wall Street through the crash of 1987. In the business world, we need good leaders.
In Somalia there is war and famine, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the famine of Ethiopia. Hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires are devastating the homes and habitats of millions of people and countless species. The human need for power and energy continues to grow and our resources continue to be finite. There is no doubt that we need more good leaders.
So at Penn State we take this call very seriously and we strive to raise up great leaders who will transform this world. But it is not as simple as, say, developing scientists, engineers and historians. There we can build curricula, set standards, and metrics to assess our students’ growth and ensure that they possess the basic skills necessary. But how do we do this with leadership? What makes one a great leader?
Many would argue that this is a fool’s errand, one cannot teach leadership. Either you are a leader or you are not. Everything else is just tinkering around the edges. There is no doubt that charisma and character are intangibles that some possess more than others. But clearly we believe that there is much that can be learned and gained from study and development.
Penn State’s honors college, the institute for teaching excellence, the new Presidential Leadership Academy and our large number of entrepreneurship and leadership programs found in each one of our colleges and campuses attests to the fact that we believe that developing our students to be intelligent and thoughtful leaders is of paramount importance.
The mission of the Schreyer Honors College reflects these ideals, recognizing that world leaders are not just the smartest people in their chosen field. We have many of the very best researchers and scientists in all fields at Penn State and these are vital roles, but they are often done in the relative isolation of the lab or library, perhaps with a research group or collaborative cohort. Those who are going to lead and transform this world must have such an intellect, but they must also have a driving compassion for the community of this world.
Our mission is to “Achieve academic excellence with integrity, Build a global perspective, and Create opportunities for leadership and civic engagement.” So I would argue that a good leader is someone who is intellectually capable of coping with the challenges of being in charge, dealing with changing circumstances, crises, and opportunities. But that this always be placed within a broad view of the world that never loses sight of those who are in need.
Being a leader is a great challenge precisely because the problems presented are so complex. Much of our political debate today might lead one to believe that every problem has two simple, different solutions: the right one and the other guy’s. Real world problems are far more difficult to delineate. This is the motivation behind the Presidential Leadership Academy where the emphasis is placed upon developing students’ critical thinking skills to prepare them for the difficult decision-making that lies before them.
These are but a few of the ways in which Penn State has sought to educate and develop our students to be leaders. There are many other programs throughout our various disciplines and colleges, through our student government, peer tutoring and mentoring programs.
Today I hope you will help us to determine if we are on the right track, what more we might do, and perhaps even come closer to a definitive definition of what it means to be a “leader.”
Before I introduce our next speaker I want to thank Dr. Angele Linse and her staff, but especially Deidre Yingling who has done a tremendous job bringing this all together. Thank you also to all our speakers and panelists. This looks to be a tremendous conference.
It is my pleasure to introduce the president of the Pennsylvania State University…