Alexandria Rhoads was the student speaker for the annual Penn State Outreach and Online Education Appreciation Dinner. Here are the remarks that she shared.
Good evening, distinguished guests of Penn State. My name is Alexandria Rhoads, I am a first-year engineering student here at University Park, and two years ago I was a member of the inaugural class of the Readiness Institute Summer Program at Penn State. I would like to start by thanking every one of you who supports Outreach and Online Education. Your generosity helped create the context for high school student success at the Readiness Institute. And, my success as a Readiness Institute learner. And, now, as a Penn State student!
The Readiness Institute Summer Program was unlike any learning experience I have ever had. It brought students together from many different schools to explore our own passions and ideas in ways that were the most beneficial for us. More than anything else, the experience helped each of us recognize our potential and build on it. And, because each student was awarded a $2,000 stipend, not one of us had to choose between needed income and these impactful experiences. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that our lives are better because of it. I know mine certainly is.
We learned how to be career- and future-ready in our personal, professional, and community lives. Let me tell you first about the personal side.
Before the Readiness Institute, I didn’t really know who I was. However, through the activities, I was able to realize my potential and understand who I am now and who I want to be. I have always known that I want to help others, but I was unsure of how I could do that in my everyday life. Through the Readiness Institute, I participated in activities that educated me in ways that went beyond classroom learning, helping me to realize how I could best help others in my personal life.
There were so many impactful activities, but one that stands out for me is a visit to Saturday Light Brigade Radio, where we made podcasts. All the students worked in groups, and we got to choose our own topics. My group decided to call out some of the issues that marginalized groups face in society. This was transformative for me. I decided right then and there that I want to be someone who fights against injustice, and I am so thankful for learning that.
This personal realization connected to everything else: academics, professional direction, and community life.
While many people reduce professional life to whatever career path a person chooses, the Readiness Institute focused on ensuring that we were prepared to be professional — not just prepared to choose a profession. No other program I had participated in had ever done that: Everything was always geared to career-readiness, whereas the Readiness Institute also incorporated general future-readiness. One aspect I found particularly beneficial was the work we did on financial literacy. From the time that I could understand what money is, I recognized only two things: You have to work hard to get it. You have to work hard to keep it. The Readiness Institute recognized the lack of understanding most teenagers have regarding money, and they gave us the opportunity to become financially literate through a workshop — essentially a masterclass in all things money. By the end, I understood how credit cards work, whether it’s better to rent or buy, how to go about investing, and how to save for retirement. None of these ideas had even crossed my mind before. But if I’m going to lead a professional life, I need to understand how money works!
I want to tell you next how the Summer Program showed me that I have a place in community life as well.
It’s hard to remain positive when everything you hear in the news makes it sound like people simply don’t care about one another. However, the Summer Program proved to me that I can shape my public life by rebuilding my faith in our shared humanity. One event that I will cherish forever was working at Sunny’s Garden, where volunteers grow and share produce with anyone who needs it, and where all can gain a sense of community by helping people feel less alone. I certainly felt an enhanced sense of community as 15 of us teenagers pulled up weeds, created a mosaic, and decorated the garden. There’s just something about sitting in the grass and digging in the dirt that makes conversations so much better.
My experience at the Readiness Institute truly inspired me to become active in my own community now and in the future. Being here with you, too, is truly inspiring. I am so grateful for all I have received through the program and what it means for my present and future and the impact I can have. Thank you!