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Justin Aglio: Preparing Each Student for Personal, Professional, and Civic Success

Justin Aglio: Preparing Each Student for Personal, Professional, and Civic Success

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Justin Aglio, the associate vice president at Penn State Outreach and the executive director at the Readiness Institute at Penn State. Let’s learn what’s happening at Pennsylvania State University and how Justin is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Justin, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through The Pennsylvania State University?

Justin: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Students are sitting in classrooms today with a sense of fearlessness and optimism, ready to create a brighter and more prosperous world, and, as such, our way of thinking and how we prepare learners must evolve and change. “What would it take to prepare each and every student for personal, professional, and civic success?” First, we need to prepare students to be lifelong learners, people with the ability to reskill and upskill as needed. Second, we must find ways to give students real-world experiences that are transferable beyond near-term job openings. Third, we must create meaningful ways for students to lead in their communities and collaborate with others to make the world livable for all. 

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Justin: Kindness, health, peace, happiness, and more!  These are things that we wish for every day. As educators, we wish our students would grow up in a world where they are warm-hearted and free from deadly diseases. However, wishing is not enough.  We can hope and dream over and over, but in order to help make a future come true, we need to start designing the future, now. We wish the world could be as we envision it, but at the end of the day, we cannot predict how it will be. However, as educators, we can begin to take action today through intentional design. We can help shape the future that we envision, and whatever future we envision, students will be part of it.

Spiffy: That’s a future I definitely want to be a part of! Can you elaborate on the impact of your work?

Justin: The Readiness Institute Summer Program gives learners the opportunity to upskill/reskill cognitive ability and competencies, develop greater social-emotional intelligence, and improve modern literacies that raise digital, cultural, and financial awareness. We are striving to educate the whole person, so learners have opportunities to explore their understanding of themselves through social and emotional development. We are creating complementary expertise and learning to address the skewed and arbitrary relationship between education, industry, and the larger community, with the goal of becoming nimbler and more collaborative. Finally, we are reimagining civic education and participation by rebuilding faith in our shared humanity.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Justin: The Readiness Institute is embarking on a mission to foster hope among people around the world with the launch of the Hope Moonshot program. Every student, educator, and member of the global community was invited to join this inspirational movement, and messages were saved on an SD card and included aboard a lunar lander sent to the moon’s surface by Astrobotic. More than 30 countries have submitted hopes. Once hopes are sent to the moon in 2023, every person who submitted a hope will be able to look into the night sky, and be reminded of what they are hoping for and how their actions can contribute to the greater good of the community and future readiness. If our hopes can make it to the moon, then our hopes can come true on Earth.

Spiffy: Wow! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before I let you go?

Justin: The next twenty years of the 21st century will, no doubt, be marked by how citizens and corporations respond to the needs generated by the first twenty years. Educators will play an extremely important role in this process. As we teach the youth of our world, we have the opportunity to produce informed citizens, critical thinkers, empathetic neighbors, and ethical business leaders. In order to do this, we must frame more of our educational opportunities within the context of ethical and relevant education.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Justin—it’s been an honor!

Justin W. Aglio, Ed.D., serves as the associate vice president for Penn State Outreach and as the executive director of the Readiness Institute at Penn State. He serves on the board of directors or as an advisory board member of the Moonshot Museum, the Mark Cuban Foundation, and the AIM Academy. (Nominated by Stan Thompson. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 4, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.