Leadership & Experiential Learning

With support from Vito and Mary Verni, the Institute works with faculty across the university to integrate leadership into current and future academic courses, with a special focus on providing experiential learning opportunities for Widener students. 

open quotes
A young boy looked up at me with his innocent brown eyes and kept repeating the same thing over and over again to me in Spanish. The children at the REMAR orphanage were able to communicate only in Spanish. My Spanish is not the best so I was unsure of what he was saying and then suddenly it clicked. The young boy kept telling me to never forget him and to keep him in my heart forever. In English this feeling is called love and in Spanish this feeling is called amor, but no matter what love conquers all and it will always feel the same anywhere in the world. I will never forget how this young boy smiled at me, how tightly he hugged me, and especially how life changing my experiential learning opportunity in Honduras was. dan hartney

While in Honduras I was able to participate in such a wide range of diverse opportunities. I had the chance to volunteer with the youth at the REMAR orphanage and the bilingual Alison Bixby Stone School. The children at REMAR and Alison Bixby Stone School were so grateful and showed so much affection to us. The children at Alison Bixby Stone School were more advanced in terms of education because of their opportunity to attend a bilingual school. The children at REMAR lacked basic reading skills and could not communicate with us in English. There was such a difference between volunteering at the REMAR orphanage and the Alison Bixby Stone School, but both experiences were equally important and impactful. Throughout the semester our class and others donated supplies to bring to the children in Honduras. Through all the donations and a grant we were able to bring over 350 pounds of arts and crafts and educational supplies to help entertain the children. Through fundraising efforts such as bake sales we were able to raise $160 of the $600 goal we set to donate to REMAR to help pay for an additional pump for the irrigation system for their farm. Last year we were able to donate $1000 for circuit board. We strive to aid with the farm at REMAR by donating $200 for pipes next month and offering any other financial support we can. It was such a great opportunity to be able to meet with Dr. Jeffery Lansdale, the president of Zamorano, and to be able to hear his view about the poverty and violence issues that are prevalent in Honduras. Another opportunity I had was gathering proverbs popularly used in the Latin culture in two lower level English classes offered at Zamorano University. These proverbs help our group develop a better understanding of what the students at Zamorano value and believe. I felt blessed to have the chance to interact with the students at Zamorano both inside and outside of the classroom. Outside of the classroom we went to a dance club meeting, learned how to salsa and also played volleyball with the Zamorano students. At the dancing event I was outside my comfort zone, but it was such a great cultural experience I am glad I decided to participate. The connection through an academic and social perspective with the students was quite different, but equally important. The most challenging, but rewarding part of the trip was climbing Uyuca. Uyuca is a mountain in Honduras that is well-respected and is used as Zamorano’s source of water. After having five knee surgeries and one foot surgery I never thought I would be able to climb a mountain, but with the encouragement of the group and my self-determination I was able to embrace the beautiful and breathtaking view at the top of the mountain.

I also gained plenty of leadership experience prior to the trip though the preparation process, on the trip, and even after the trip. In preparation for the trip Dr. Dyer asked me to help packing all the donated supplies. I organized all the items donated and the whole group helped pack them. The trickiest part was keeping all the suitcases under fifty pounds because of the airport regulations. During the trip I took initiative to sit with different Zamorano students in the cafeteria each day to go outside my comfort zone. My classmates also began to follow me so it made it a lot easier as I did it more. Also there is an extra circular activity at Zamorano consisting of a group of students that volunteer at the REMAR orphanage. I was asked by one of the students to do a group bonding activity so I decided to do an ice break with everyone. It went a lot better than I thought it would have. Even after I returned to the United States I am still in contact with the people involved in the REMAR volunteer extra circular group. I sent them evaluation forms and lesson plans that are used in Northern Star Sports which is an after-school program at Stetser and Main Street Elementary school. This program is sponsored by the Office of Civic Engagement at Widener University and I am a head coach in this program. The lesson plans focus on using sports and physical activity to learn about character objectives including, but not limited to topics such as responsibility, team work, and honesty. The evaluation forms are used to see how children improve through their time enrolled in the program. I want the students volunteering at REMAR to see the progress of the children and to be able to see that they do make a difference. It is reassuring to know that all the hard work and effort is worth something. I am excited to see how this group implements these evaluations and lesson plans and to see whether they were successful or not. It was such an honor to be able to go on this trip to Honduras with such outstanding classmates and knowledgeable faculty, which included Dr. Dyer, Dr. Grant, and Professor Cary. These professors have been going to Zamorano for over six years developing relationships with various key individuals. I was glad I was able to be a part of the sustainability of this annual educational and cultural trip to Honduras. The Oskin Leadership Institute has provided me with leadership development on and off campus. Before my trip to Honduras I never had the chance to visit a foreign country. It is crazy to think just two years ago I was a high school senior sitting in my Spanish class dreaming of traveling to a Spanish speaking country and the Oskin Leadership Institute helped my dream come true. open quotespost-Widener.

– Monica Lesinski, 2016 Verni Fellow


open quotes

It is unbelievable to think just how quickly transformative events can take place. As a Widener University international relations and political science dual major, I constantly strive to develop a global mindset and to gain cultural appreciation. With this being said, I could not have adequately prepared myself to attend a United Nations charter signing, a World Hunger Conference in Guelph, Canada, or even to be helping develop a mini-farm in Honduras. These high-impact experiences were so incredibly eye opening and have taken me far beyond my comfort zone. When I first heard of the Presidents United To Solve Hunger (PUSH) signing at the United Nations and learned of the many ways a university, or our university, can help solve hunger, it was hard for me not to become enthralled.dan hartney

Dr. Patricia Dyer and I realized that in order for Widener University to advance our participation and commitment in the hunger solutions conversation we needed to understand each of the unique challenges. The 10th Annual Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit, that I was fortunate enough to attend through the Verni grant, was an extremely beneficial first step in the growing process. During this summit, I found myself involved in and inspired by conversations that I did not previously think existed. Individuals from across the globe were talking of the many ideas, projects, and life-changing advancements that they and their respected universities are making in facing global hunger. At this conference, I learned of the many roles that businesses, leaders of academia, local communities, and students are playing in looking for hunger solutions. In conversations with attendees I began to see the many ways I and other Widener students could contribute to this worthy cause. In just a few short days, I became invested in projects that take place as far as Cambodia and as close as Washington, D.C. Upon my return, I shared as much information as I could with my fellow classmates who would also be traveling to Honduras. The class then brainstormed about local projects in Chester and even our mini-farm project in Honduras. Attending this conference also gave me the leadership opportunity to present information about hunger solutions to the Widener University Deans Council, at the request of President Harris. These awesome experiential learning opportunities have given me a new perspective on sustainable impacts that Widener students can make both locally and globally. I am grateful for the support of the Oskin Leadership Institute and I am excited to develop future student action plans that benefit both local and global communities.

Dr. Patricia Dyer and I realized that in order for Widener University to advance our participation and commitment in the hunger solutions conversation we needed to understand each of the unique challenges. The 10th Annual Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit, that I was fortunate enough to attend through the Verni grant, was an extremely beneficial first step in the growing process. During this summit, I found myself involved in and inspired by conversations that I did not previously think existed. Individuals from across the globe were talking of the many ideas, projects, and life-changing advancements that they and their respected universities are making in facing global hunger. At this conference, I learned of the many roles that businesses, leaders of academia, local communities, and students are playing in looking for hunger solutions. In conversations with attendees I began to see the many ways I and other Widener students could contribute to this worthy cause. In just a few short days, I became invested in projects that take place as far as Cambodia and as close as Washington, D.C. Upon my return, I shared as much information as I could with my fellow classmates who would also be traveling to Honduras. The class then brainstormed about local projects in Chester and even our mini-farm project in Honduras. Attending this conference also gave me the leadership opportunity to present information about hunger solutions to the Widener University Deans Council, at the request of President Harris. These awesome experiential learning opportunities have given me a new perspective on sustainable impacts that Widener students can make both locally and globally. I am grateful for the support of the Oskin Leadership Institute and I am excited to develop future student action plans that benefit both local and global communities.open quotespost-Widener.

– Ronald Rabena, Oskin Leader


open quotes
Experiential learning has advanced my knowledge and confidence as an Oskin Leader profoundly. In order to learn about hydroponic systems and how to grow food crops with less water, time, and environmental impact, I was offered the opportunity to travel to a hydroponic greenhouse and learn from professionals and industry leaders themselves. This experience catapulted the research I had been doing and inspired new, innovative ideas, that have evolved into the core of my project today.dan hartney

A year later, I find myself hundreds of miles from Widener in Rochester, New York, at the annual Futures Summit. The summit was another opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself to develop my own network within the hydroponic industry. The highlight was seeking out and meeting Dr. Dickson Despommier, a pioneer in vertical farming research.

I found myself enveloped in a 40-minute conversation that taught me more applicable knowledge than I had learned in the previous month. Finally, I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Paul Lightfoot, CEO of BrightFarms, a company I truly admire and widely considered a leader in the hydroponics industry. It is because of the these invaluable experiences and the opportunities they create, that I truly believe that experiential learning at the Oskin Leadership Institute is building the foundation of my future, open quotespost-Widener.

– Dan Hartney, Oskin Leader