Podcast Episode 4: Personal Growth

Justin Aglio, senior director of the Readiness Institute at Penn State, and Emma Hance, program manager, talk about the self-improvement that happens through personal growth, empowerment, and engagement. Then, teens involved in the Readiness Institute’s Summer Program reflect on their own personal growth journeys.

Transcript for Podcast Episode 4: Personal Growth

Larry Berger: Welcome to the Readiness Institute at Penn State Podcast. This is Larry Berger at the studios of SLB Radio Productions in Pittsburgh along with Justin Aglio and Emma Hance. Justin is senior director of the Readiness Institute at Penn State and Emma is the institute’s program manager. Welcome! Justin, can you talk a bit about the mission of the Readiness Institute?

Justin Aglio: Yes, thank you, Larry. The Readiness Institute at Penn State is a Penn State outreach initiative and our mission is to enable education, industry, and community partners to coordinate, collaborate, and create experiences for learners to achieve community and future readiness.

Larry Berger: In a few moments, you’ll hear from teens reflecting on Readiness Institute programs and their goals and dreams for the future. First, let’s focus on one of the Readiness Institute’s core components, namely personal growth and engagement. Emma, can you talk about those two topics and why they matter?

Emma Hance: So, when we talk about personal growth, engagement, and also empowerment, we’re really talking about the self improvement that comes with expanding your skills, knowledge, personal qualities, your life goals and outlook. But also, one thing that’s important to note is self awareness is a huge component of this conversation, because if you aren’t able to recognize positive changes in yourself, it becomes difficult to leverage these new traits in the future.

Larry Berger: Those changes must be hard to detect. After all, you sometimes have the worst seat in the house, if you’re within yourself, which you are, as opposed to observing yourself from the outside. How do you hone those skills to understand your own growth?

Emma Hance: Allowing time for self reflection is a huge part of that. If you’re constantly going, going, going, you might be experiencing growth from day to day, but if you don’t give yourself time to stop and look back and reflect upon your pathway, it’s very easy to overlook the progress that you are making.

Larry Berger: Justin, that has to be very difficult because the speed at which the world moves encourages, as Emma just said, to go, go, go, and it seems like you’re losing opportunities or missing opportunities if you stop, but in reality it sounds like pausing to reflect is essential if you are going to get further along.

Justin Aglio: And that has to come back to asking the right question. So, instead of focusing on what do you want to become in the future? Who do you want to become? That helps us focus on personal growth, because then we could focus on who do we want to become as individuals in our own community. And not just who do you want to become, but how do you get there? Is it by volunteering? Is it by studying? Is it by working in groups and focus on the community and future readiness skills? So that allows you to pause but then grow faster.

Larry Berger: And when you talk a bit more about the “who”, that brings to mind engagement and also empowerment. How do those two aspects end up growing as a result?

Emma Hance: If you are in a situation where you don’t feel like you have the skills to take advantage of it, you’re much more likely to take a backseat, to sit back and let things
happen to you.

Larry Berger: Because you’re not confident.

Emma Hance: You don’t have the confidence. You don’t have the skills. You feel like someone else is better suited to it. But when you start to take steps toward personal growth and to improving yourself, you build your confidence. You build your sense of self, and when you are aware of your strengths and of your skill set, you’re more able to identify where you can come into play and be a force for positive change.

Larry Berger: So having a growth mindset and a comfort with personal growth and self awareness really helps to calibrate you for whatever future may await you because you’ll be able to ask questions confidently, explore confidently, and you end up having a loop that comes back and you continue to grow as you engage with the world.

Justin Aglio: And that comes with a sense of belongingness. Sometimes you cannot grow in a culture that doesn’t allow you to grow, and that’s one of the things that we practice every single second. We try to provide this culture that you do belong, and it’s not just saying it, but it’s doing the little things that make people belong. And we’ve heard over and over again in our programs, “I felt like I just belonged.” “I felt like I was part of the group.” “I was in this small group and before my voice could never be heard because I wasn’t allowed, but being in a small group and being given the skills and tools to communicate in small groups, and then to present, gave me confidence. And it gave me this new sense of who I am moving forward,” and that was huge. So you have to provide that culture that you do belong. Inclusivity is a word that’s being used a lot, and it should be used a lot. Providing that culture where you can grow and you can engage with one another.

Emma Hance: When people are not comfortable, they’re kind of coming in with armor already up. But when you focus on belonging and allowing people to show up as their whole selves, they’re more willing to be vulnerable, to open up, to show those weaknesses, which you might have traits that you view as weaknesses that others view as strengths. So it’s starting to also figure out how you can help others currently and then, if there are certain things that you do want to change and improve, it’s figuring out the steps that I need to take to get there.
Larry Berger: There’s a lot more to learn about personal growth, engagement, empowerment, and sense of belonging. And in a moment, we’ll give you details on how you can be in touch with the Readiness Institute.

Emma Hance: Yeah, at the Readiness Institute, we are big proponents of incorporating learner voice at every step along the way. When learners are able to reflect on and clearly articulate the lessons that they’ve learned, you know that the experience was successful and impactful. On that note, let’s hear from a few of our Readiness Institute learners.

Caroline: Hi. My name is Caroline. I came in here kind of shy, not really knowing anything. We always talked about soft skills, and I think I learned a lot of soft skills here, just mainly communication. I think, in school, it will help me ask questions. If I need help with anything, I’ll definitely feel more comfortable just being able to go out and say, “hey, I need help with something.” And in the workforce, I think it’ll really help me, like in interviews. I’m going to feel ten times more comfortable talking to somebody than I ever have before.

Aaliyah: My name is Aaliyah. It feels like this program changes your life in a good way. It really got me very excited to go to college, because I really didn’t want to go to college.

Liliana: My name is Lilliana. Almost everyone that we met didn’t have a straightforward career. Their future was not what they thought it was going to be. I think it’s totally changed my mind on the experience of being an adult, that college career path.

Chiara: My name is Chiara. The program changed my outlook on the future. Some of the social skills that we’ve learned and the life skills in general; adaptability is one that we talked about a lot in this program. I learned that I have what it takes, basically, to change things in this city, in this state, in the world that I didn’t really know that I had the capability to do it, no matter my age.

Jhimere: I’m Jhimere. No matter what, we could always follow our goal and reach it, as long as we work hard and ask for help when we need it and talk to people when we need help. Usually I like to work by myself, but working with other people opens me up a little bit and kinda helps with my anxiety. Knowing that I’m comfortable and no one’s going to judge, it kind of like helps.

Larry Berger: Justin Aglio and Emma Hance, thank you so much for being with us today for the Readiness Institute of Penn State podcast. Emma, how can people learn more about program activities?

Emma Hance: Yeah, if you’re interested in learning more about the Readiness Institute programs, including our summer program and speaker series, among others, check out the Readiness Institute website at readinessinstitute.psu.edu. Or you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @riatpennstate.