Rock Ethics Institute recognizes three outstanding students as Stand Up awardees

Rock Ethics Institute recognizes three outstanding students as Stand Up awardees

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute has announced the winners of the 2024 Stand Up Awards for Undergraduate Ethical Leadership: Triniti Freeman, a third-year student majoring in nursing; Vancie Peacock, a fourth-year student majoring in biological engineering; and Jenna Seigworth, a fourth-year student majoring in English.  

Established in 2008, the Stand Up Awards recognize undergraduate students at Penn State who have demonstrated ethical leadership by standing up for a cause, idea or belief. Through honoring the students’ courageous examples, the awards aim to inspire others to become ethical leaders. The awards are supported through a gift from Charles, Joan and Emily Rolling. 

“When you interact with Triniti, Vancie and Jenna, their passion for justice immediately becomes apparent,” said Ben Jones, assistant director of the Rock Ethics Institute. “At Penn State campuses across the commonwealth, they have helped build communities committed to racial equity, sustainable agricultural and making fresh food accessible to everyone.”   

The ceremony to celebrate this year’s winners will take place on Tuesday, April 16, at 4 p.m. in Robb Hall of the Hintz Family Alumni Center. The ceremony also will be livestreamed via Zoom for those unable to join in person.  

Triniti Freeman

Now in her third year, Freeman already has had a big impact at Penn State Schuylkill. The Black Student Union on campus had been inactive for several years, and Triniti set about rebuilding the group and forging connections with Black Student Unions on other Penn State campuses. Her efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion also extend to the broader community — she has developed relationships with the local chapter of the NAACP, finding opportunities for racial justice work on and off campus to complement each other. 

“Triniti is someone who leads by example,” said Bryan Valentine, director of student affairs and athletics at Penn State Schuylkill. “She has dedicated herself to educating our campus and local community about inequity, bias, prejudice and racism in a way that builds people up rather than tears them down.” 

As a nursing major, Freeman said her passion lies in creating a more racially equitable healthcare system.

“What I found while digging into the data was alarming,” Freeman recalled. “The inequalities that pervade our healthcare system are unacceptable, leading to inadequate care for so many people of color. We must change this reality, and that’s what I’m driven to do.”

During her first year, Freeman organized Penn State Schuylkill’s first Health Science Conference to raise those issues and provide resources to students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. She currently is planning a second edition of the conference on campus. 

Vancie Peacock 

Lori Bedell, associate teaching professor in communication arts and sciences, explained what makes Peacock so special: “It is one thing to see a problem. It’s another thing to know what could help. Many people stop at one of those steps. Not Vancie. She doesn’t just stop at a good idea. She finds the pathways to make it happen and then makes it happen.” 

That determination and persistence have been evident throughout Peacock’s time with the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm at Penn State, which she joined as an intern during her first year of college. Peacock noticed that many Penn State students are unable to afford fresh food, and, to help address this need, she started the Schreyer Pocket Garden and made its produce available to students at the Lion’s Pantry and pay-what-you-can market stands in the HUB. The project inspired similar initiatives at other campuses around the state.

To expand and ensure that programs addressing food access continued, Peacock served as the executive director of the Student Farm Club for two years. In this role, she helped secure $200,000 for the Student Farm through grant writing to the Student Fee Board. These grant funds led to the launch of new programs, including two scholarships and independent study experiences for students to explore the feasibility of food recovery at Penn State. Eventually, these students went on to establish Penn State’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network, which has delivered thousands of meals using food that otherwise would have gone to waste. By empowering and inspiring others, she has brought about systemic change that will continue after she graduates. 

Peacock also has created opportunities for others to learn about sustainable agriculture. Through Penn State’s Students Teaching Students program, she designed and taught a 3-credit undergraduate course, “Exploring Sustainability in Local Food Systems.” All her work stems from a deep respect for the natural world that she has felt since childhood, she said.

“To me,” said Peacock, “sustainable agriculture is all about respecting the land, genuinely caring for the natural world and what lives there and preserving the earth for future generations.”  

Jenna Seigworth 

Seigworth has dedicated herself to addressing food insecurity on her campus and in the local community. She joined the Sustainable Food Systems Program (SFSP) at Penn State Behrend as an intern in 2022. In this role, she spearheaded efforts to distribute produce grown on campus to both students and community members who face barriers to accessing fresh food.

“Produce was already being grown on the Behrend campus,” noted Seigworth, “so it seemed logical to me that the food should be put back into the community. As we made decisions about how the program would run, centering the voices of those who experience food insecurity ensured that the food we grew was culturally relevant and easily accessible to them.” 

What resulted was a partnership with local farmers. SFSP distributed food grown at Penn State Behrend through both the Lion’s Pantry on campus and existing pay-what-you-can farm stands in underserved areas of Erie, which allowed farmers to expand this model and offer multiple stands a week.

Beyond this initiative, Seigworth has played an integral role in other SFSP outreach. She and another SFSP intern received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to make Penn State Behrend’s high-tunnel garden more productive. Seigworth also joined other members of SFSP to interview local farmers and learn more about the mental health challenges they face as part of “Growing Roots of Understanding” — a collaboration between SFSP, Penn State Extension, and Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council. 

Katie Chriest, coordinator of SFSP at Penn State Behrend, explained the impact of Seigworth’s work: “Produce grown on Behrend’s campus now increases access to fresh, local food for community and campus members who experience food insecurity. Whether she’s collaborating with fellow students as Student Garden Club president or with the broader community as a powerful advocate for social justice reform, Jenna instinctively prioritizes inclusion, listening and meeting people where they are.” 

About the Rock Ethics Institute  

The Rock Ethics Institute, which sponsors the Stand Up Awards for Undergraduate Ethical Leadership, was established in 2001 through a $5 million gift from Doug and Julie Rock to the College of the Liberal Arts. The institute’s mission is to promote ethical awareness and inquiry across the University. 

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