Every year, Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute steps up and honors students, not for what they have learned in a classroom but for what they have taught others about being human.
On Friday, the institute did that again, naming the 2015 Stand Up Award winners.
The awards go to students who have made a difference in volunteerism, advocacy or other ways that show commitment to a cause or belief.
Cara McDonald is one of those winners this year.
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A senior majoring in community, environment and development, McDonald’s cause was miles away from University Park. Over her college career, she spent three summers in Haiti, both learning through research and giving back by teaching English.
“She has spent her Penn State career learning how she can make a difference for those living in poverty around the world. In 2014, she mobilized a group of students to start an initiative called Agripreneurs of Haiti to assist in agriculture education for students in Haiti,” the institute said in a statement.
McDonald was amazed.
“It’s really awesome to be recognized by Penn State. It’s part of my everyday life so it was surprising, but it’s more awesome that Penn State recognizes that poverty is an issue in development,” she said.
The award is not the end of McDonald’s commitment. She will move to Haiti after graduation in May to work with a nonprofit, furthering the efforts she started while a student.
But McDonald was not the only winner.
There was also Melissa McCleery. Her focus was much more targeted at the university, as she worked to make campus safer in a world where sexual violence is a sad reality.
McCleery was a member of President Eric Barron’s sexual assault and sexual harassment task force, helping to formulate the 18 recommendations that were put out earlier this year to make the campus safer and more accountable.
She also chaired the University Park Undergraduate Association’s sexual violence awareness roundtable, helped the Office of Student Conduct improve its resources website and worked with Penn State police to tweak alerts to be more informative and place less blame.
McCleery has been a vocal presence during her years at Penn State. In March, she addressed the board of trustees.
And then there is Parker Werns, a transgender man who has been devoted to “taking a stand for queer equality” on campus, and beyond.
“Parker worked with every Commonwealth Campus to codify and publicize their existing LGBTQ resources to not only share the resources that already exist, but to show there are resources lacking,” the institute stated.
Werns has been a committed voice calling for outreach, support and a presence, and in some cases, that representation has been him. He was nominated to chair the President’s Commission on LGBT Equity, helping address issues that face the community, calling for more unisex restrooms and drafting policy that would keep university vendors responsible to the same ethical standards as Penn State.
The award includes a $1,000 prize.