Ivy Leaf - Winter 2013

Hail to the Chief

Penn State Altoona student leader now lends a voice to students across the Commonwealth


More of a sports enthusiast in high school, Ben Clark entered Penn State Altoona without an initial interest in student government. When his good friend ran for vice-president of Altoona’s Student Government Association, Clark decided to try it out and became treasurer. When the president at that time graduated early, Clark ascended to vice-president, and it has been full speed ahead ever since.

Clark’s involvement in student government at Altoona gave him all the experience he needed to take on his current position at University Park. Clark, who will graduate in May 2013 with a major in accounting and a minor in political science, is president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG), the legislative body representing the nineteen Commonwealth Campuses across Penn State. Based at University Park, CCSG comprises student leaders who have continued to devote themselves to bettering the Commonwealth since their transition to University Park from other campuses.

A natural born leader (Clark’s dad is a retired Pennsylvania State Representative), Clark is motivated by his desire to help his fellow students. At Altoona, he spearheaded the initiative to extend library hours to from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Says Clark, “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience at Altoona. It prepared me for the real world and for my transition to student government at University Park. The administration at Penn State is very open and willing to work with the students.”

The big issue facing CCSG, and Clark as its president, is the implementation of an honor code at Penn State. “We want to make Penn State as competitive as possible,” states Clark. “We want students to go into the classroom and feel that no one has cheated, so that their grades and GPAs aren’t affected by that. And we want professors to focus on teaching and research, not policing the students.”

The key to a successful honor code, according to Clark, is that it is student-driven. The idea originated with the faculty, but Clark notes that “the students have said thanks for the idea and are starting to run with it, which is really, really cool.”

An honor code “created by the students, for the students, and implemented by the students will create an environment that makes students comfortable calling each other out for cheating. Eventually you won’t have to worry about cheating because no one will do it. It will be that competitive,” notes Clark. CCSG has benchmarked the University of Virginia, an institution known for its student honor code dating back to the 1800s.

And, notes Clark, there is no better time to start a Penn State honor code than now, given the events of the past year. “Everyone realizes that now is the time for environmental changes,” states Clark. “The University is in a mode of transformation and is looking for every opportunity to make it the best that it can be.” Although Clark knows that significant change takes time, he hopes that CCSG can capitalize on this transformational time period and move the honor code forward.

Although Clark plans to pursue law school and work in the private sector, he hasn’t ruled out a stint in public service down the road. Regardless, his experience with both student government, as well as his internship experience with former Pennsylvania State Representative Rick Geist has prepared him well for whatever path he chooses. “I’ve gained real world experience in a real world atmosphere that you just can’t get in the classroom,” states Clark.

The ability to communicate with members of Penn State’s administration and Board of Trustees has given him confidence and insight into how decisions are made at the highest level. “There are so many great people at Penn State,” notes Clark. “I think each individual that I have come into contact with has given me a piece of advice, taught me how to work with others, and helped me become a better person.”