Student & Alumni Profiles

Student & Alumni Profiles

As of June, 2016, four former students are completing their doctoral degrees in psychology at area universities, and five recent graduates are now enrolled in masters programs in psychology.



The Final Jeopardy answer is “May 1.” The correct question is “When did former Penn State New Kensington student Michelle Flaherty appear on Jeopardy?”

Unfortunately, "Dates that New Kensington alumna appear on TV" was not a category, but Flaherty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology from the campus, knew enough trivia to finish runner-up to Julia Collins, the longest-running female champion in the show’s history. After missing the game-ending answer, “Other than Q, these two letters appear the least in the names of states,” by writing Z and X instead of Z and J, she pocketed $2,000 in winnings.

“I made a good showing,” said Flaherty, a native of Allegheny Township. “I got a bunch of questions right and didn’t get many questions wrong.”

In a bit of serendipity, one of the categories was "Psychology." Flaherty graduated with high distinction in 2011. Although she didn’t always succeed in the buzzer battle, she knew many of the answers. Flaherty shared her glory with her former psychology professors, Rob Bridges and Rick Harnish, in a May 1 email.

“One of the questions that I got on the show was a psychology question and, spoiler alert, I got it correct,” Flaherty wrote. “As you can see, all your psychology efforts paid off.”

Bridges and Harnish, associate professors of psychology, were Flaherty’s advisers and mentors. Both teach lower- and upper-level courses.

“Michelle was the type of student who, when you asked a question in class, could always count on for a quick and correct response,” said Harnish, who spent 13 years in private industry before joining the campus faculty in 2003. “It doesn’t surprise me that she competed so well."

"Michelle was a delight to have in class,” said Bridges, the 2005 recipient of the Penn State Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching. “Her leadership in my student-led seminar class suggested to me that she had great things in her future."

Her yearlong cross-country trek to the land of Alex Trebek started with an online test, moved to an audition in Niagara Falls, and concluded on a stage in Culver City, California, where the show was taped in February. Believing that study sessions would have a negative impact on her performance, she did no special preparation for the show. “I always had an aptitude for trivia,” Flaherty said. “For some reason, I just retain things you never really need to know.”

For the “As Fate Will Have It” category, Flaherty’s appearance on television was analogous to her senior research paper, “The Effect of Background Television on Performance.” The paper detailed the results of an experiment on students studying while watching television. The hypothesis was that students who were exposed to background television during a task would have a lower performance rate and would take longer to accomplish the task than those who were not exposed. Results, however, indicated no significant difference in performance rate between the groups. There is no empirical data on final grades for the New Kensington campus students who were studying for final exams while watching Flaherty on Jeopardy.

“I remember Michelle’s project very well because of the topic matter and her null results,” said Harnish, who was the adviser for 11 undergraduate research projects this semester. “I’m still trying to convince students that background noise, be it music or conversation, is distracting and that performance will suffer.”

The Harrison resident is a child and family advocate for the Alle-Kiski Hope Center, a domestic violence shelter. She is expecting her first baby in July.

For the Valley News Dispatch story on Flaherty’s Jeopardy appearance, visit



Richard Hofscher, Shanna Williams, and Brian Ferraccio have graduated with bachelor degrees in psychology, and have been accepted to various advanced degree programs.  Hofscher has been accepted to Chatham University for their Masters of Arts in Psychology. Williams, who graduated with high distinction with a bachelor of arts in applied psychology, has been accepted to the Master of Arts in Counseling Degree Program at Geneva College. Ferraccio, who also graduated with high distinction with a bachelor of science in psychology, has been accepted to the Psy.D. program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.



Penn State New Kensington alumnus Kristen Guy was named to the list of the 2013 Fab 40. Guy was honored at a reception in the spring.

Sponsored by the New Pittsburgh Courier, one of the oldest black newspapers in the United States, the Fab 40 honors 40 of Pittsburgh’s young African-American professionals under the age of 40. Guy was nominated for the award by the Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh where she is co-chair of the Community Service committee. She was selected for making a positive impact on the community.

“I was very humbled and excited,” Guy said. “It was awesome to be among others that are serving the community.”

An employee relations manager for Intermedix Corp, Guy has nine years of experience as a human resource professional. Before joining Intermedix, a provider of technology solutions for the healthcare business, Guy was a human resource consultant for UPMC Physician Services and human resources coordinator for Tervita.

Guy earned her bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology in 2006. She holds a master’s degree in Professional Leadership from Carlow University. She credits her undergraduate days for her career successes.

“Penn State New Kensington was beneficial to me because it gave me the base knowledge of how organizations work,” said Guy, who was president of the Multicultural Club at the campus. “It helped me to learn how to operate professionally in different organizations.”

A resident of Arnold, Guy is active in the community. Besides her work for the Urban League, she is a mentor for the Bridging the Gap program.



Spring 2013 graduates, Richard Hofscher and Brian Ferraccio, presented “Self-monitoring and Posting of Mall Haul Videos” at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington DC on May 26, 2013. Working with Drs. Harnish and Bridges, the research explored the impact self-monitoring has on interest in posting or viewing mall haul videos. The research team found that high self-monitors (those individuals who are more concerned with status issues) indicated a greater number of views for their videos compared to low self-monitors (those individuals who are less concerned with status issues). Thus, it appears that posting mall haul videos may assist high self-monitors in projecting a socially desirable image through the ownership of a product and its use.