2009 Award Recipients
Class of 2009
Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Penn State Shenango
For her leadership in raising awareness about Pennsylvania's Safe Haven Law, which provides for a safe, legal, and confidential alternative to abandoning a newborn.
Read More About Koann
Do you know about the Pennsylvania Safe Haven Law? Odds are, you’ve never heard of it. Yet this law offers an important option to parents who are unable to care for their newborn infants. This law ensures that such parents can, without fear of prosecution, give their newborn child to any hospital staff member for safe haven. The infant will receive needed medical care and the county’s child and youth agency will help to find the child a suitable and loving home. Supporters of the Safe Haven Law believe the law helps to ensure the welfare of these infants by providing an option for parents who feel they have no other choice.
When Koann Eicher discovered that most people did not know about this law, she decided to take a stand. She believed that if more parents knew about the Safe Haven Law, tragedies could be prevented. Koann lived her values and embraced the importance of ethical leadership by committing her time and energy to educating teenagers. She organized a free informational session about the Safe Haven Law with a local Shenango lawyer. Together, they explained the Safe Haven Law and how hospitals would care for infants until they could be placed in foster care.
This was only the beginning of Koann’s efforts to protect the welfare of these newborns and provide options for their parents. She presented her research at the Undergraduate Research Conference at the Penn State Behrend campus, exposing how little people know about these laws. Koann also interviewed a high school superintendent about organizing informational programs at a local school and talked to a social worker for the homeless. She also plans to travel around Pennsylvania to spread awareness. People have accepted her project with thanks and inspiration.
Koann is dedicated to the education of Pennsylvanians about this important law. Her commitment is fueled by empathy. She has a teenage daughter herself, and understands how difficult it would be for a teenager to be faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Her love for her daughter has helped her appreciate the importance of loving and just options for young parents and their infants. Thanks to her leadership and courage, more teenagers will know that the Safe Haven Law is an option in the context of difficult ethical choices.
Ignorance is a barrier that can cost lives. Koann Eicher had the courage and conviction to combat ignorance in her community. Share her story with others and we will all benefit from her leadership.
To learn more about Pennsylvania's Safe Haven Law, please go to: http://www.secretsafe.org/
Class of 2010
Economics and Finance
Penn State University Park
For his work and dedication in promoting the Smeal College of Business Honor Code, and for his leadership and extraordinary example in promoting integrity and respect.
Read More About Shane
You might think, given the barrage of news stories today about Ponzi schemes and commercial fraud, that business ethics are in decline. But commercial success and business ethics are far from incompatible, as one remarkable Penn State student has been quick to recognize.
In the first year of college, a student must navigate a new environment, figure out how to live away from home, and adjust to the rigors of university life. Accordingly, our students often take some time to get involved in the Penn State community. This was not the case for Shane George. Brought up in a family that stressed the importance of personal integrity and of acting ethically every day, Shane wasted no time in demonstrating ethical leadership to rectify a glaring wrong. As a freshman in the Smeal College of Business, he noticed rampant cheating in his classes. Instead of standing idly by or accepting cheating as part of college life, Shane decided to do something about it. Working closely with faculty, and despite “obvious friction” with fellow students, Shane helped to formulate an Honor Code for Smeal College—a code that now appears on every course syllabus in the college. Having helped to design the Honor Code, Shane continues to work tirelessly to ensure that it forms the cornerstone of business education at Penn State. Working closely with the Dean’s office, Shane developed “Integrity Talks,” workshop exercises for promoting critical thinking and developing the moral imaginations of business students. Moreover, he has taken on a leadership role in justifying the Honor Code to skeptical business students by making presentations in many of the College’s business courses. Shane’s work is paying off. Rather than allowing academic dishonesty to continue, more and more business students are reporting incidents of cheating.
Shane is not someone who says one thing in public and then does another in private. His commitment to ethics is profound. Indeed, Shane’s ethical leadership in his academic life is mirrored by a dedication towards promoting honor, respect, and tolerance in his personal life. As a Resident Assistant for Residence Life, Shane strove to promote an environment where all of the forty five students who lived on his floor felt safe from discrimination and violence. Accordingly, when some of Shane’s students discriminated against an openly gay dorm member, Shane took a stand. He made sure that discriminatory behavior would not be tolerated by promoting an environment of open and respectful communication. His commitment and leadership helped to ease tensions and facilitated understanding and acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
Shane’s actions, whether as an RA or as a leader in his College, demonstrate a commitment to doing the right thing, no matter how difficult. Through his actions, he has helped many of us appreciate how important it is to stand up for our beliefs and not simply ignore problems. Thus, we honor Shane George for his leadership and his commitment to integrity, which he eloquently defines as “being true to yourself and being true to your beliefs.” Because Shane remains true to his principles, Penn State is a better place.
Class of 2009
Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Penn State DuBois
For her courage in taking a stand against a pudding wrestling fundraiser, resulting in an event that was more respectful to women.
Read More About Andie
Every year, the ECO club at Penn State DuBois holds a fundraiser. In the spring of 2007, the club decided to host a pudding wrestling match. The ECO club is a male-dominated club populated by the Wildlife Technology Program—a program with 24 men and only four women. While the event was likely well-intentioned, even the publicity for the event—in which a woman wrestles another woman in a pool of pudding—was causing a spate of sexist remarks. Sexually suggestive comments that objectified women were heard on campus and male students posted photos of the potential wrestlers online, accompanied by degrading comments. One student, who initially supported the event, listened to the reactions and became increasingly concerned, and she chose to do something about it. That student is Andie Graham.
Andie has been described as nothing less than an “ethical force on the DuBois campus.” Her deep sensitivity to the suffering of others and her desire to put men and women on equal footing led her to speak out against the pudding wrestling event. Eventually, she was able to get the ECO club to change the nature of the fundraiser. But her leadership came at a cost. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy—and Andie’s ethical stand against the negative effects of the pudding wrestling event was met with ridicule and name-calling. Students voiced open hostility to her, both in person and online. Yet through it all, Andie’s belief in the ethical foundation of her position was not shaken. When asked if she would stand up and speak out again, knowing how much criticism she would receive, she said that she would. Such resolution is one mark of a good leader.
Andie’s immediate goal was to lobby for a more respectful fundraising event. But her broader goal was to raise awareness and set an example demonstrating that it was important to speak out about harassment, discrimination, and sexism. One of her instructors explained, “Andie Graham lives by poet Audre Lorde’s words: ‘Your silence will not protect you.’ She understands that silence in the face of prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination equals acquiescence. She lets her voice be heard in the cause of justice, and by doing that, serves as a role model to those who haven’t yet found the strength to break their own silences.”
Andie’s struggle against the pudding wrestling match succeeded in breaking silences on the DuBois campus. Women who had been involved with the fundraiser, but who had remained silent about their discomfort, came up to Andie after the modified event and thanked her for taking a stand on their behalf. Understanding that every woman has a right to be treated fairly and with dignity, she took a stand.
Andie Graham stood up against harassment, even though it meant enduring harassment herself. And in a very real way, Penn State is a more just community thanks to her leadership.
Class of 2010
Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus
For her courage in confronting the stigma of a drag show and promoting an environment of acceptance.
Read More About Hilary
Standing up for your beliefs often requires courage and commitment. Hilary Griffith rose to the challenge, and inspired others to appreciate and respect difference.
When a friend approached Hilary and offered to organize a free professional performance at the Penn State Fayette campus to help raise money for THON, she embraced his idea. You might wonder why supporting a charity performance would require courage or conviction. In this case it had to do with negative reactions from students and staff. You see, Hilary’s friend is a professional drag queen and the performance would be a drag king and queen show.
As soon as word got out that Hilary was proposing a charity drag show, she faced hostility from her campus community. Some people were offended by the very idea of a drag show on campus. Even those who were sympathetic urged her to rename the event and call it a “talent show” or a “fashion show.” But Hilary held her ground. She knew that it would be disrespectful to the men and women who performed to mask the event’s nature with an ambiguous title. “Why,” Hilary insisted, “do we have to call it something other than what it is, and why do we have to hide what we are doing?”
Hilary remained calm and professional and followed Penn State protocol for student-run activities. She spoke with compassion and conviction about the importance of respecting diversity. Her leadership encouraged others to take a stand. “I found a group of people I did not even know were there,” Hilary explained. “The campus LGBT community rallied behind me. And I now knew what it was like to be in their shoes, not knowing who to trust.”
Hilary reached out to university officials to make a difference. “College is a time to be yourself,” she explained, “but it is hard to be yourself when you are faced with intolerance on campus.” Hilary committed herself to “opening people’s eyes,” to raising awareness about the LGBT community, and thinking of ways to help people accept others despite differences.
This summer, Hilary will be working on creating what she calls a “Diversity Task Force” and is dedicating her time to convincing faculty who are teaching Freshman Seminars to incorporate curriculum designed to encourage students to examine their biases and appreciate the impact of their actions.
Hilary’s ethical principle is simple. She believes that we can identify with others if we realize that every life has value. Her leadership is helping to ensure that Penn State Fayette is a respectful community that encourages students to appreciate and learn from their differences. Thanks to Hilary, we all more clearly recognize the value of the first Penn State Principle: “I will respect the dignity of all individuals within the Penn State community.”
Class of 2010
Penn State University Park
For her leadership in helping to develop a free Tenant Landlord Mediation Center ensuring that cost is not a factor in students seeking justice.
Read More About Miatta
Penn State economics major Miatta Massaley was quick to recognize that legal rights are often worthless if you cannot afford a lawyer. For many years, hundreds of students in the Borough of State College could do very little when they were mistreated by their landlords. And many private landlords were similarly without means of redress when students failed to pay rent, or caused damage to their rental properties. Miatta soon realized that an alternative to expensive legal proceedings was desperately needed.
Working with three other members of the Legal Affairs division of the University Park Undergraduate Affairs, Miatta designed and procured funding for a pilot Landlord Tenant Mediation Center. To ensure that the center would meet the needs of those it was intended to serve, Miatta and her colleagues spent many hours in the summer months attending borough meetings, and listening to the complaints and perspectives of tenants and landlords alike. In January 2009, the ground-breaking mediation service opened its doors—and not just to Miatta’s fellow students. The program also offers a valuable means of redress for non-student tenants in the Borough of State College, and for landlords too.
The center Miatta helped build serves as a model for affordable and speedy resolution of landlord-tenant disputes that we hope will inspire other university communities. More broadly, it also demonstrates the power of mediation and, in these troubled times, the value of resolving our disputes amicably, where possible, and finding a way to move on.
The creation of the mediation center, a valuable achievement in itself, is not the only way in which Miatta will leave her mark at Penn State. She also lobbied successfully to retain the Undergraduate Association’s Diversity and Student Life Committee when its existence was threatened, and thereby ensured that the association continued to serve the interests of minority students. Having worked hard to save the committee, she then joined it and helped organize its first networking event for the leaders of student minority groups at University Park, and its first annual women’s symposium where fellow students could discuss eating disorders, body image and sexual harassment.
Miatta’s sensitivity to the unvoiced and neglected concerns of others, her courage to take a stand on their behalf, and her determination to follow through in the face of challenging obstacles and the many competing demands on a student’s time are an inspiration to us all. Her fortitude epitomizes the nature and value of ethical leadership.