My Unexpected Gifts from Penn State

Before Penn State, I was a middle-aged mother focused on raising teenage daughters. My family was my life and I didn’t have the time or the inclination to cultivate relationships outside of home and work.

I had dropped out of college at 18 before completing even two years. That was an unfinished chapter of my life. I perceived dropping out as a failure and it hung over my head. When I went back to college in 2007, I expected to get an education, perhaps to start a new career. I never anticipated receiving so many very special gifts – gifts of friendship and lessons in personal growth so profound that I almost cannot articulate them.

World Campus Psychology Club Members
L-R: World Campus Psychology Club Members Lindsay Unger, Debra Mynar, and Kim Carter

At first, I was surprised at my level of success. I had never been an A student before! I was absolutely shocked at how much I enjoyed learning, particularly interacting and collaborating with my classmates. I loved school! What? How did this happen? I loved learning, but it was my interaction beyond the classroom that really inspired me.

Starting the World Campus Psychology Club gave me the opportunity to lead a group of learners; to collaborate with faculty and staff; to be creative in developing a support resource for adult online learners; and to create what will hopefully continue as a lasting contribution to Penn State and the profession of psychology.

We encountered new challenges and overcame them together. Classmates turned into colleagues and colleagues turned into friends. And our collective accomplishments gave me newfound confidence. This self-assurance spread beyond academics. It became a part of me, leaving traces throughout other aspects of my life.

William Wells at the Nittany Lion Shrine
William Wells at the Nittany Lion Shrine

I attribute the idea for creating the club to fellow psychology student William Wells and he was my partner in the process. William could always be counted on for great ideas, but he also kept things moving forward when I had doubts about whether we could be successful.

William unfailingly supported me and the club as we struggled to coordinate efforts and become an officially-recognized student organization in our first year. He modeled dependability and he raised the bar for any future collaborative effort in which I am involved. William taught me to stop and breathe, to continually refine my plan, and to persevere.

And my new friends have not been limited to the psychology program. Ivy Moon-Rumsey sat next to me in May 2010 when we were inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda. At that moment, I had no inkling that we would ever see each other again. But, we kept running into each other… literally… on a World Campus student panel, at All University Day 2012, and writing together for this blog.

Then she moved to State College and I found myself enjoying a lovely pasta dinner one evening with her family. This fall, we plan to put a THON 5K team together to raise money For The Kids. Ivy has taught me how important it is to roll with the punches, to take a moment to recalibrate to life, and – most important of all – to forgive myself.

Jamie Reep with his family at the World Campus Graduation Celebration
Jamie Reep and family at the World Campus Graduation Celebration

Jamie Reep had recently moved to State College and he was at Ivy’s dinner, too! Jamie and I first bonded over shared challenges in our statistics courses. We both participated in the first town hall event, too. And we eventually got to meet in person at All University Day 2012 and again at graduation festivities.

In the span of a few short months this year, Jamie completed his bachelor’s degree and accepted a position at main campus. During his relocation, it took several months for him and his beloved family to be reunited. By his example, Jamie has taught me persistence in the face of adversity and he has renewed my faith in the higher plan.

Jose Llompart
Jose Llompart

Unfortunately, I have not been able to meet everyone in person. I was first introduced to José Francisco Llompart, a lawyer in Spain and a recent graduate from Penn State’s Law and Society program, when World Campus had a virtual site in Second Life. We are able to continue our relationship through the power of social networking where he patiently lets me practice my Spanish. When I worried about my youngest daughter traveling to Spain, he graciously provided his contact information in case she had an emergency. Now that’s a great friend!

José has taught me that interacting online eradicates the limitations of geography and opens up the world to us! His level of engagement with past, present, and future Penn State students is impressive, particularly considering his busy schedule and the time difference between us.

Since we became friends – I don’t even remember how – I have proudly watched Ken Kidwell complete two Penn State degrees. We have supported each other through a variety of academic and life challenges. Plus, we share an affection for cupcakes made in Georgetown! And when he wanted an extra tassel and couldn’t make it to the bookstore, I picked one up and sent it to him. Through the ups and downs, Ken has taught me to speak up and to fight for what is right. This is a very valuable lesson!

The Hello Kitty pen I received from Kayoko
The Hello Kitty pen I received from Kayoko

I have to finish with a picture of the pen sent to me in a care package by my friend Kayoko Suga from Japan. She knows that I am a cat lady! Kayoko has given me a wonderful glimpse into her very different culture. Together, we traverse language barriers with the help of technology tools that support communication.

Kayoko and other World Campus students around the world have taught me to be open and accepting of different traditions; to work patiently toward mutual understanding; and to make every effort to create and maintain accessible learning environments. I look forward to the brilliant insights that they bring into any conversation.

I have received far too many gifts to list them all here. I could go on and on, but I am already worried that this post is too long. To the classmates, staff, and faculty that I wasn’t able to mention, thank you. I appreciate the extra time you gave, the endless string of questions you answered, the fears you calmed, the lessons you taught, and the many years of support you willingly provided during my time at Penn State. I learned so much more than I ever planned and I am incredibly grateful to you all.