Why “We Are” Choosing Penn State

Welcome back to those returning this semester and good luck to those starting! I find the summer semester to be my favorite semester. First, it’s fast paced. And, it marks my first semester at World Campus. Summer 2013 starts my third and final year as a Penn State student.

Me in full dress uniform prior to the Navy Ball.
Me in full dress uniform prior to the Navy Ball.

Have you ever been asked why you decided to attend college at Penn State University? When speaking to others about my time in school, I’m sometimes asked that question—which is actually a good question.

In 2010, when I made the decision to return to school, I had many choices. As a veteran using the VA’s Post 9/11 GI Bill I could have chosen any college. Living in Jacksonville, FL I could have simply returned to my alma mater at the University of North Florida.

However, the prospect of attending online offered more local opportunities, such as the University of Florida or Florida State University. I also considered Villanova University, since I grew up in Philadelphia. Each of those schools have fine programs, but I never applied to any of them. In fact, Penn State was the only school to which I applied.

Did I choose Penn State because of the name? The academic programs? My Pennsylvania roots? Dumb luck? The answer is yes to all. There was also an influence of two former co-workers and friends, Mr. Ted Kirby and Mr. Jerry Box. Talking and listening to Ted and Jerry really influenced my decision.

These men have been affiliated with the University for decades and provided a unique perspective about the culture, community, and family that is Penn State University. Thus, in late 2010, I submitted my application on the basis of academics, prestige, heritage, and a desire to become a Penn State family member. Fortunately, I was offered admission.

Lately, though, I’ve discovered another reason for attending Penn State. During the semester break my wife and I were traveling in Florida. We spent a few days at Disney World, park-hopping and financially supporting “The Mouse”. One evening, while escaping the rain, we entered a building at the Magic Kingdom. While inside, a Disney employee commented on my Philadelphia Phillies t-shirt.

This young lady, Melissa, had “Penn State University” on her name tag. We chatted for a few minutes about the Creamery and State College before she had to go. The next day, as my wife and I entered Hollywood studios, I heard “We Are…” The Nittany Lion logo on my shirt brought the chant from Jason (another Disney employee) from Allentown, PA. Turns out Jason, and his family up north, are Penn Staters.

Thinking back to 2010, and my conversations with Jerry and Ted, and my recent encounters with Melissa and Jason, perhaps the main reason I chose Penn State was the sense of community. This isn’t just me, either. For example, in 2008, Department of Labor and Employment Relations (my program) had eight faculty and roughly 200 hundred students in three degree programs. Today, there 70 faculty members, and 2,100 students in 11 degree programs.

Over graduation weekend, the Penn State Board of Trustees officially changed the Department to the School of Labor and Employment Relations! You can read more on this accomplishment on the School’s Facebook page. “We Are” still growing and still choosing Penn State.

Being a Penn State student is challenging because standards are set high. Being a Penn State student is also rewarding because our community is so large. Those who have been at Penn State understand. For those just starting, you’ll begin to understand quickly. I think “We Are” making a good choice. Good luck over the summer!