SSRI co-fund Jennifer Frank among those who serve students across University
At any university, it is common to see faculty and staff working with students. After all, it is part of most job descriptions. But oftentimes, faculty and staff go above and beyond their job descriptions in what they do for students.
In the College of Education, more than a dozen faculty and staff serve as advisers for various University-recognized student organizations that are not connected to the college. Some have served for decades, while others are newcomers who want to get involved and work with students outside of the classroom. Regardless of their length of tenure, all serve for their own distinct reasons. For James Johnson, advising allows him to focus on two of his favorite things — playing chess and helping students.
Johnson, professor of education (early childhood education), has been playing chess Thursday nights in the HUB since he came to Penn State in 1983. In fact, a few weeks before teaching his first class, he competed in the Pennsylvania state chess championships. During his college years, he was a Michigan Junior Champion and represented Wayne State University twice in the Pan-American Inter-Collegiate tournament. When the opportunity presented itself for him to serve as faculty adviser for the Penn State Chess Club, it was only natural for Johnson to get involved.
"We all need a break from usual academic routines and our students obviously do too," said Johnson, who served as adviser in the 1990s and recently resumed responsibilities again in 2016. "I love sharing the love of the game, which lasts a lifetime, and partaking in the chess culture, which is very welcoming and draws you deeply in."
Jerry Henry, human resource strategic partner for the College of Arts and Architecture and College of Education, works behind the scenes with college administration as well as working on special projects for Penn State Human Resources. His typical, day-to-day duties do not involve much interaction with students. However, outside of the office, Henry can be spotted working with the Penn State Thespians.
Founded in 1897, Penn State Thespians has seen many changes in its 120-year existence, according to Henry. "At its start, the organization was an all-male club. During World War I, women began performing because the draft left the club without some of its male talent, but it was not until 1953 when women were officially allowed membership," he said.
In 1999, Henry began his role as adviser and has been with the organization ever since. He works with the students, most of whom are not theatre majors, to produce two full-production musicals each year. The group also gives back to the community by producing two children's shows a year and MasquerAIDs, a production that benefits the AIDS Project of Centre County. The group also participates annually in THON.
"It is not only professors who can impact a student's life," said Henry, who has been involved with community theatre most of his life. "Many times, it is the staff member sitting behind a desk who offered a student a smile on a particular day. When I think back to my college days, I think often of the staff member who assisted me in registering for a course or who lent me enough money for bus fare to get back to my apartment."
"I like being able to work with students who are extremely creative and smart, who thought they would need to leave drama behind them after they left high school," he said. "When they find Penn State Thespians, they have found their family away from their family."
Helping students find that kind of emotional support also is what drives Jason Whitney to continue to serve as faculty adviser for Lions for Recovery (LFR), a support group for students recovering from alcohol and other substance-use disorders.
Whitney, an instructor of education (secondary English education), understands firsthand how alcohol and substance-use disorders can affect one's college career.
"During my sophomore year [of college], I began to work a recovery program and I am still working at it 26 years later, and it continues to be a powerfully transformative process," he said. "College can be a tough environment for students with substance-use disorders. When unsupported, these students have difficulty sustaining their recovery and often foreclose on their educations and their futures. It has been a major reason for school failure and attrition here at Penn State for years."
The mission of LFR is to provide mutual support, service and outreach to encourage students struggling with substance-use disorders to seek help. Current members regularly serve on various panels where they share their experiences and personal stories. They also speak regularly as part of the curriculum for Centre County's Youthful Offender's Program (YOP).
"On surveys, the YOP participants consistently rate the LFR speakers as the most impactful part of that program," Whitney said.
Whitney, who has seen firsthand how beneficial groups like LFR are for college students and personally understands the need for support networks, is part of an interdisciplinary group at Penn State working to establish an Addiction and Recovery minor. He also recently developed a new course called Education and the Student in Recovery, the first course of its kind in the United States.
"I am glad that the collegiate recovery movement came about and that I was able to help Penn State establish this incredible program and use my personal experience to help students in recovery since I've been there myself," he said.
Amanda Smith's struggles also are what led her to lend a helping hand to Penn State students. Smith, who is the STEM outreach and engagement liaison for the Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS), was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997 when she was just a teenager. She now uses her experiences and knowledge of the disease to help students by advising the College Diabetes Network at Penn State (CDN@PSU).
"I remember being told I would have a decreased quality of life, would likely not have children and would struggle as I got older," Smith said. "However, diabetes management has come a long way in 20 years and as a type 1, you can do anything you put your mind to."
CDN@PSU is the local chapter of the national organization that provides resources, support, funding and other opportunities for college students nationwide. At Penn State, members provide support for their peers and help those diagnosed with the disease.
"College life can be difficult enough, so having this support group for students with type 1 diabetes can be quite helpful," Smith said, adding that there are many misconceptions about the disease and CDN@PSU helps students better understand their diagnosis.
"I am proud to be part of CDN@PSU and to help the group grow as an organization," she said. "I think it is crucial that in any capacity, whether you have a special talent, provide leadership or lend a helping hand, that faculty and staff provide a means to serve Penn State and its students. It makes us a stronger, more connected community."
Aside from its academic and research accolades, Penn State is known for its many community outreach endeavors. One of those endeavors involves the efforts of CB's Rookies, a student organization that connects students with disabilities in the local community with Penn State students via a shared interest in athletic events.
The group was established in 2016 with the help of Jennifer Frank, assistant professor of education (special education), who serves as a co-adviser along with colleague Katie Hoffman, associate professor of education (special education).
"Our mission is to give children with disabilities and their parents an opportunity to become a part the Penn State community through involvement in our athletic programs," Frank said. "We visit students at their school and assist them in learning more about Penn State sports and 'CBeating' game day 'CBaft' (creating game day crafts). Then, children are offered tickets and invited to tailgate and attend a Penn State athletic event with their parent or guardian."
CB's Rookies hosts three events each year — one in the fall, spring and winter. Children are greeted by club members who watch the event with them, and afterward, take them to meet the athletes for autographs and pictures.
"Our hope is to give these students the opportunity to experience not only a Penn State sporting event, but also the tight-knit community that is found on campus. By doing so, we hope to provide them an experience that will have a positive and lasting impact on their lives," Frank said.
"Seeing our students' compassion turned into action is inspiring," she added.
A number of staff and faculty in the College of Education dedicate their time to serving as advisers for various Penn State student organizations outside of the student organizations tied to the college. Among those in the college who currently serve are:
- Cori Donaghy — Happy Valley Music Label
- Jennifer Frank — CB's Rookies
- Jerry Henry — Penn State Thespians
- Katie Hoffman — Harmony and CB's Rookies
- James Johnson — Penn State Chess Club
- Efrain Marimon — Mock Trial Association
- Ashely Patterson — Bahá'í Campus Association
- Kimberly Powell — Penn State Taiko
- Gabriella Richard — Penn State Esports Club
- María Schmidt — Boricua Grads
- Roger Shouse — Turning Point USA at Penn State University
- Amanda Smith — College Diabetes Network Chapter at Penn State
- Jason Whitney — Lions for Recovery