NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — Encouraging students to develop their unique talents to make the biggest impact on the campus and community, motivational speaker Jon Vroman spoke to members of the class of 2020 at Penn State New Kensington on Aug. 18 as they concluded preparations to begin their college careers.
The new students were entertained and enlightened by the nationally-known, award-winning speaker’s presentation, “Living College Life in the Front Row,” which was based on his book of the same name. The overarching theme was students should be active participants, both on campus and off campus. He called it being “in the front row.” According to Vroman, the back row is reserved for “spectators of life.”
New Kensington students were privy to Vroman’s five core values for drawing on the full college experience — make authentic connections; create your own reality; be open to change; commit fully; and contribute to others. He encouraged students to develop their unique talents to make the biggest impact on the campus and community.
“He hit the right spot about staying positive,” said Ryan Binkley, a freshman in the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology program. “He said it wasn’t easy getting through college, but a positive mentality will help you do it.”
Vroman co-founded Front Row Foundation in 2005. The nonprofit has raised over a million dollars to help children and adults braving life-threatening illnesses have a front row experience at the concert or sporting event of their dreams.
The guest speaker was the one of the highlights of the final two days of the annual academic and campus orientation program. Known as New Student Orientation, the three-day program is a series of sessions spread out over the summer and designed to give first-year students the tools necessary to make a smooth transition into University life. Incoming students met with staff, faculty and peers and participated in activities designed to help them adjust to life at Penn State.
The second and third days (Aug. 18-19) of orientation were the most engaging as all incoming students were together for the first time. Thursday’s activities included taking part in the campus tradition of orientation prides. Each student was assigned to one of eight pride groups headed by an orientation leader who is an upperclassman. As a pride, students attended interactive workshops to learn about academic procedures, electronic resources and extracurricular activities.
Thursday’s afternoon sessions featured the Academic Convocation, a formal ceremony led by Chancellor Kevin Snider. Wearing their academic robes, faculty and staff officially welcomed students to the campus. Donald Bruckner, associate professor of arts and humanities and chair of the Faculty Senate, talked about the significance of academic regalia. LaVarr McBride, instructor in administration of justice and 2016 recipient of the campus’ Excellence in Teaching award, delivered the keynote address. He stressed the importance of fearlessness and facing a challenge with confidence.
“LaVarr gave a most inspiring speech about domestic violence and survival,” said Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs. "He encouraged the students to keep trying even in the face of adversity and to be mindful that we are not always aware of what others have survived in order to reach their personal goals.”
The students' day concluded in the evening with a maritime journey on Pittsburgh's three rivers. The annual “First-Year Sunset Boat Cruise” aboard the River Quest gave students a view of the many towns along the rivers and the beautiful city skyline.
The new students returned Friday for ice breaking activities, class photo, presentations, summer reading discussions and the Pride Olympics. The traditional “Rainbow Arch” photograph featured the class of 2020 wearing their pride colors and standing together under the campus’ iconic arch. The arch was donated by Alcoa and stands atop the hill that overlooks the main entrance to the campus. Designed by Henry Noestheden, the aluminum structure has been a campus landmark since 1976.
Six faculty — Rujirutana “Dr. A” Mandhachitara, Michael McGinnis, Irene Wolf, Joie Marhefka, Frances Blanco-Yu, Megan Bardolph — and Chancellor Kevin Snider, led discussions on the summer reading assignment, “Flight 93: The Story, the Aftermath, and the Legacy of American Courage on 9/11” by Tom McMillan. Based on interviews, oral histories, personal tours of the crash site and evidence recently made public, the book examines the events that led up to the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the stories of the victims who were launched into the center of history. McMillan donates all proceeds from the book sales to the Friends of Flight 93, an organization that maintains the national memorial. He will be on campus Monday, Oct. 3, to continue the conversation with students.
The First-Year Summer Reading Program was instituted at the campus in 2005 to encourage reading and critical thinking and to provide a shared experience among new students. Jennifer Gilley, head librarian, organized the first program and the featured book was "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," by Barbara Ehrenreich. In addition to orientation, small-group discussions are slated with fellow students, faculty and staff throughout the fall semester.
Reuniting the eight prides, the Olympics gave students the opportunity to compete in a variety of challenges that encourage teamwork and leadership. It also gave the newcomers another opportunity to mingle with fellow freshmen.
As the new semester dawned, the incoming class joined the upperclassmen Aug. 22 and began working toward their bachelor's and associate degrees. The campus offers 10 four-year degrees and five two-year degrees. In addition, under Penn State’s 2 + 2 Plan, students can begin any of the University’s 160 majors at the New Kensington campus and complete the degree at another Penn State campus.
For more information, visit Student Life at Campus.