Last weekend I had the supreme honor to speak at the Penn State Lehigh Valley Chapter and Society Picnic at Macungie Park. Picture it: an enthusiastic band played the alma mater, Penn State’s fight song and other motivational tunes, the grill was smoking, and the Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream was being scooped out as fast as we could eat it and the almost 100 degree temps could melt it! Next time (and I really hope there is one) I’m going to hitch a ride with the Creamery Ice Cream folks. I would like to get as close to the ice cream as possible. It was fun and here’s my speech!
As the Penn State alma mater goes: “When we stood at childhood’s gate, Shapeless in the hands of fate, Thou didst mold us, dear old State, Dear old State, dear old state.” For me, that sentiment has special significance. I was relatively young when I lost my parents: 19 when my dad died and 28 when my mom died. Certainly not a ’child’ as the lyrics suggest, but young enough to still be looking for (and certainly in need of) some guidance, ‘shaping,’ if you will. For me, Penn State and many of the Penn State people (whether you realize it or not) served as a surrogate family. And no one will ever love you more than your family. Penn State has given me a supportive, extended family and one I cherish. And as a Penn Stater, I want to see other Penn Staters succeed. That supportive success is at the heart of what it means to be an active Penn Stater long after we’ve donned our caps and gowns at commencement.
As chapter members you may know better than anyone how Penn State continues to keep you under its wing and bring you together with people who share similar passions and experiences better than anyone. Here you are at the Penn State Lehigh Valley chapter picnic, enjoying the beautiful summer season with other Penn Staters. In Pennsylvania there are thirty-six active Alumni Chapters that sponsor events like this one, in effect reaching out the arms of Penn State to hold its extended family throughout the state. And while there are chapters throughout the United States, if you traveled to Berlin, Germany or Edmonton, Canada or to more than thirty-five other countries all around the globe, you could feel like family at the chapter gatherings there. That “one big family” feeling is what is so attractive about Penn State to me and maybe to you, too.
I’m an alumnae, and I’ve taught at Penn State Lehigh Valley for more than 20 years. Just two weeks ago I started my dream job as associate dean of academic affairs at Schreyer Honors College. So I “feel” Penn State (you could say) from a number of entry points. And it is that accessibility of Penn State that keeps it connected to its land grand mission. There really is a Penn State for everyone.
Maybe you started at a Penn State campus and transferred to University Park or maybe you completed your entire degree at a campus. At Penn State Lehigh Valley campus there are several four year degree programs including education, business, psychology, IST and the new BA in corporate communication.
You may have started when you were fresh out of high school or you might be one of many returning students who finish a degree or earn a certificate well into your adulthood. Or, you may not be an alum, instead you may be more active in the great community based education programs that Penn State offers. Or, like so many people I meet, you may be a huge Penn State football fan even though you might have gone to another school (we won’t mention names!) Everywhere I go I meet Penn Staters – and I mean everywhere—from here at Macungie Park to Beijing, China where I traveled with students – a hearty “we are” connected me to another Penn Stater. That’s that family feeling —
As an active researcher, I write about extraordinary women who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their dreams. Though none of the women I’ve written about are Penn State alums, they knew the power of networks and alumni families. Women like Margaret Chase Smith – who was the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate. She got the courage to amplify her voice against her colleagues – all male—and speak out against McCarthyism. Upon leaving office, she was the longest-serving female Senator in history, a distinction that was not surpassed until 2011, when Senator Barbara Mikulski was sworn in for a fifth term. Margaret Chase Smith may have been dubbed “The quiet woman” but she didn’t back down and she didn’t go away.
Another remarkable woman is Shirley Chisholm who in 1972 ran for president. She broke a lot of barriers because she was both an African American and a woman. When Barack Obama became president he acknowledged that she made the way easier for him.
It isn’t too surprising that some of the women I’ve researched have Penn State ties. Hillary Clinton’s father and brother played football for Penn State and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s parents met on a train both traveling home from Penn State on holiday break. And you can be sure I tried to use those connections to interview them for my research! (Sorry to say neither attempt succeeded!) Okay – neither multiple attempts—but if anyone here knows either of them, please let me know! My research is always “ongoing.”
These women knew that leaning on their alma maters and connecting with the people that they grew up with would help them to do the work they wanted to do. It would help them to continue to serve people.
A few years ago I gave a talk about my research at Cal State Chico. The audience was filled with about 300 undergraduates, and I could see that some of them were holding my 2006 book, “Paving the Way for Madam President.” When my talk was over, many hands went up. I was thrilled, thinking ‘wow, these young people really care about women and the US presidency.’ Then the questions came: “Have you ever met JoePa?” (yes, briefly) “Will Penn State have a winning football team this year?” (I had no clue) “Will the Big Ten expand?” (again, no idea)…! Well, you get the idea. Penn State is beloved the country and world-over for many things and football is certainly one of those things!
In addition to the many Penn State Chapters, there are Penn State Societies that connect alumni to an academic unit such as the College of Agricultural Sciences, the Graduate School, and Penn State Altoona. Every college and most Penn State locations have a society. Alumni societies’ activities and programs vary but often include mentoring programs between current students and alumni, networking events for alumni and students, and student recruitment activities.
As our dean at Schreyer Honors College, Dean Christian Brady states: “Any student may enter into the Schreyer Honors College if they meet the criteria, even after the highly selective first year admission process. In the Penn State community, this sort of egalitarian “academic boot strapping” resonates positively. If you are good enough, you can make the team.” There are the sophomore and junior gates and the Paterno Fellows Program. All serve as “feeders” to the Schreyer Honors College that has approximately 1800 scholars.
At Schreyer Honor s College, alumni involvement is available in many ways that work for our alumni. Alumni give back with their talents and time, in addition to giving back philanthropically. There is the Schreyer Honors College Mentoring Program. With Mentoring with Honors, alumni mentors are matched with Schreyer Honors College students in their field. Larger alumni programming opportunities are available to alumni in their region as well. For example, the alumni admissions interview program provides alumni a way to connect to the College by interviewing prospective students seeking admission to Schreyer Honors College. This program is a wonderful way to connect alumni who want to make a difference but can’t make it to campus. There are also Career and Student Programming Initiatives. Alumni are also involved in many various career development and student programming joint initiatives. These alumni tend to be those who have stepped forward and pledged to help the Schhreyer Honors College. Scholars use these resources, often mentioning they made important networking connections with Schhreyer Honors College alumni who will help them professionally. An example, is our 19th Annual Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture held in each fall to showcase the achievements of Scholar Alumni. This year’s speaker will be Scholar Alumnus Dr. Casimer DeCusatis, a Distinguished Engineer with IBM System Networking Strategic Alliances. The lecture will be held on Wednesday, October 23, at 8 p.m. at University Park. I’m a former middle school classmate of Casimer’s and since he is from Hazleton, maybe some of you here may recognize him name. Talk about a family feeling.
At Schreyer Honors College our most involved alumni, volunteer-wise, are those who sit on our Scholar Alumni Society Board, and those alumni who are members of our External Advisory Board. Both groups give their time and talents by returning to campus multiple times per year and spearheading Schreyer Honors College initiatives. Without the support of our alumni donors, Schreyer Honors College students would not have the opportunities that they need to succeed and grow into leaders. Alumni support, from annual gifts to our Future Fund to large endowed gifts for scholarships and program funds make a difference in the lives of Scholars everyday. At Schreyer Honors College we shape people who shape the world and our alumni volunteers help us do that.
And being here today you are continuing to strengthen the Penn State family and I thank you for that.
Penn State has been a wonderful, supportive family to me and it is an honor to give back and to continue to serve Penn State. The ways to become a member of the Penn State family are many and varied. And I’m sure you’ll agree it is great to be part of it. We are…..