Class of 2017: Meet Patrick Kress (Finance)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Patrick Kress:

Patrick Kress - first choice

Major: Finance

Certificate: Financial Planning

Hometown: Waterford, Pa.

On choosing to major in Finance: I really like helping people and I’ve always been good with numbers, so being a financial planner gives me the ability to combine the two and make a living while helping people reach their retirement and finance goals.

Spring break spent in service: I went on the Alternative Spring Break trip to San Francisco with Reality Check this year, and it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I loved giving back and I highly recommend current students try an ASB trip.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My junior year, I was given the Kenneth L. Spencer Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a student majoring in Finance or Accounting. It was an honor on its own, but the most humbling part was seeing the other students I was honored with at the different awards ceremonies. They were peers who I looked up to throughout my time at Behrend, and I was proud to be in their company.

Campus involvement: I have been involved in many organizations in my time at Behrend, but two that really stand out are my time as the treasurer and then vice president of the Student Government Association and my role as secretary of the Lion Ambassadors. I’m also the president of the Financial Planning Association. My very best memories at college all stem from student organizations. I can’t tell you how much I will miss them and the people involved when I graduate.

On managing real money for the School of Business: I’m currently the lead analyst of the industrials sector for the Intrieri Family Student-Managed Fund. I’m proud to say we’ve done pretty well with it. Working on the fund has been a really valuable hands-on learning experience, especially in light of the fact that the stakes are high because we’re managing real money.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I was born with an extra lower vertebra; most people have 33, but I have 34. It is my go-to ‘tell us something interesting about you’ at icebreakers.

Advice for current students: Professors are not here to make your life harder. They have a passion for what they do and chose a career where they can help students learn and become the best version of themselves possible. Once I understood that, I stopped viewing faculty members as people who gave me too much homework and began seeing them as resources and role models. Every faculty member at Behrend wants you to be successful and they will help you in any way they can, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from their wealth of knowledge and experience.

After his graduation in May, Patrick plans to work as an advisor-in-training at his family’s business—Kress Financial Services, a retirement planning and investments firm.

Engineering Grad to Serve in Peace Corps in Africa

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Alex Laffey - first choice

This is the time of year that graduating college seniors are making decisions about their future. Should they accept the job offer in Baltimore or the one in Chicago? Should they go to graduate school or pursue a research position?

For Alex Laffey, a senior Mechanical Engineering major, there are no questions. She has known what she’s wanted to do after college since her first year of high school.

“I learned about the Peace Corps in my freshman history class, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Laffey said. “Former president John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps as a means for individuals in America to volunteer internationally, and I figured this was the best way to go to combine my passion for traveling and service.”

Laffey, a Pittsburgh native, will leave in July to serve for two years as a secondary math education teacher in Sierra Leone, Africa. We caught up with her to ask her about the exciting adventure she will embark on after her graduation in May.

What solidified your decision to volunteer with the Peace Corps?

Last summer, I traveled to India for two weeks to visit a friend. It was the first time I had ever been away from my parents and home in a completely new environment, and I loved it. I loved trying all of the new foods, being a minority, and even learning a little bit of the language. Seeing the country also showed me how much the rest of the world needs our help. As soon as I came back from India, I immediately started my application.

Did you choose Africa, or does the Peace Corps decide where you go?

When I applied, I was asked to list the top three places I would like to serve. Sierra Leone was my first choice. It stood out in my mind from a book I had read—A Long Way Gone. I didn’t even put a second and third choice because I figured that if I couldn’t go to Africa, I’d be happy to go wherever they needed me. Luckily, it worked out that they needed math teachers in Sierra Leone and the Corps had a new group leaving in July.

Has anyone in your family ever served in the Peace Corps or do they volunteer?

Nobody in my family has ever served in the Peace Corps, but my parents always taught me to help others. Not only have they helped me with everything tremendously, but they also go out of their way to help others. They are constantly volunteering and making a difference in our community and abroad. They were my inspiration for wanting to go.

Do you choose what you will be doing there?

You volunteer in one of six sectors for the Peace Corps: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development. Like with location, I had to rank my top three preferences. I initially wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to volunteer in, but after speaking with a recruiter she suggested teaching because of my engineering degree.

Will you be in the same location for the entire two years?

I will be in the same country for the whole two years, but in different cities. When I arrive in July, I will be staying with a host family for three months to help with cultural integration and adjustment. After those three months, I will begin my two years of service, and the Peace Corps will decide where to place me. So, as of right now, I know that I will be in Sierra Leone. I just don’t know exactly where.

What do you know about Africa? Do they speak English? Do you go to any training to help you before you leave?

When I arrive in July, I will begin with three months of training. This includes safety, health, teaching, and even how to properly do laundry. The official language is English, but throughout the villages, many different languages are spoken so I will get a basic overview of all of those. Right now, I have been reading a lot different books about the location, and the Peace Corps has provided me with a lot of information. They also put me in touch with Peace Corps volunteers who were in Sierra Leone and that has been very helpful!

What are you taking? How does one pack for two years?

I am honestly not sure how I am going to pack all of my stuff! I can only take a carry-on, one personal item, and two suitcases. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and talking to returned volunteers about what is most essential. I know I will definitely be getting a hammock to enjoy the nice weather, and a bunch of solar chargers so that I can use my laptop and phone while I am there.

Where will you be living? What are the conditions like? Are they primitive?

After my first three months with a host family, I will move to my official site where I will stay for two years. It could be in a city or a village, and I won’t know that until later. Regardless, I will have internet access, so I can keep in touch with friends and family.

How many vaccinations do you have to get?

So far, I have only had to get two shots, but I have had a lot of blood work done. The Peace Corps gave me a list of twenty-some tasks that I must complete to be medically cleared to go. It has been taking awhile to get through all of those. Many of them are to ensure the country I’m traveling to can handle any medical needs I may have, and that I will respond well to medicines commonly available there.

What are you most excited about?

All of it! I cannot wait to meet the people I will be serving with and the students I’ll be teaching and to see the country. I’ve read a lot about the country and the people there and, at this point, I’m just ready to experience it all first-hand.

Is there anything that makes you nervous/apprehensive about this trip?

I am definitely nervous to be so far away from the amazing support system I have at home. It’s definitely going to be hard to do it all alone, but I know that my family and friends are only a phone call away, and that I have other volunteers to lean on while I am there.

What did your parents say when you told them you were doing this?

At first, they were really supportive, but I think that’s because they thought I wouldn’t go through with it. When I was accepted, I was hesitate to bring it up because I didn’t want them to worry. It is a lot for them to deal with. I mean, their daughter is graduating from college and moving 5,000 miles away to living in an African village for two years. But they’ve already planned a trip to visit me, and I think that has really helped ease their minds.

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I am hoping to gain a new perspective, and make a difference. I can get caught up in my “problems” and think that I’m having a bad day, but the truth is that I am very fortunate. I also want to teach others and encourage them to keep learning. If I can help just one student while I am there, it will be enough.

Will you get to come home at all? How will you keep in touch with your family/friends while you’re away?

I am not allowed to travel outside of Africa for the first six months or the last three months of my service. Other than that, I am able to come home or go to other countries to sightsee. I receive two vacation days a month and I can save them up for a longer trip. Friends and family are welcome (and encouraged) to visit!

What are you plans when you return to the states?

I have no idea! I am hoping to come back and spend time with friends and family, eat all of the food I will have missed, and then hopefully find a job in engineering.

Laffey plans to blog about her experiences in Africa. Follow her at alexandralaffey.wordpress.com. Read more about Laffey in her Standout Senior profile.

Class of 2017: Meet Grace Waldfogle (Psychology)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Grace Waldfogle:

Grace Waldfogle - first choice

Major: Psychology, Human Factors and Design option

Hometown: Pittsburgh

On choosing to major in Psychology: I originally intended to major in Biology, but fell in love with the faculty research projects that were happening in the Psychology department. After my first year, I decided that Psychology was the right major for me.

Campus involvement: I’ve been involved in multiple organizations. I was the Student Government Association treasurer and sat on the SGA’s Academic Affairs Committee. I am the past president and vice president of Gamma Sigma Sigma (a national service sorority) and a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, and Psi Chi honor societies. I was also president of the Psychology Club.

On helping others: I’m passionate about helping others. I love to volunteer in my free time. I try to be the kind of person who people can lean on if they need help.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: I’m most proud of the faculty-led research I’ve had the opportunity to do since my first year. I’ve been able to travel around the world to present our research work and have made connections with professionals in the field that have been very beneficial. With an extensive background in research, I am confident I will succeed in graduate school.

Awards: I received the Christopher M. Geitner award in the spring of 2016.

Priorities and puppy love: My priorities in the immediate future are to complete a Ph.D. program, obtain a tenure-track faculty position, and get a puppy.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I joke that I’m a 75-year-old woman stuck in a 22-year-old woman’s body. I love to stay home on weekends and read a good book.

Advice for current students: The first few weeks of college are stressful. Just remember that everyone is as nervous as you are. Don’t be afraid to be the person who walks up to a group of strangers and introduces yourself. That is how I made some of my best friends.

After her graduation in May, Grace plans to attend graduate school and obtain a Ph.D. in Human Factors and Applied Cognition.

Class of 2017: Meet Ryan Kelley (Computer Engineering)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Ryan Kelley:

Ryan Kelley - first choice

Major: Computer Engineering

Minor: Game Development

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.

On choosing Penn State Behrend: I chose Behrend because of its high-quality engineering facilities and attentive faculty and staff. The engineering equipment and labs at Behrend were impressive.

On choosing to major in Computer Engineering: When I was growing up, my father, who is a mechanical engineer, and I used to tinker with a random assortment of computer parts in our basement to build our own “Frankencomputers.” I learned how to program in HTML, C++, and Java in high school.

Scholarships/Awards: I received the Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My proudest accomplishment so far has been my research work: Leveraging Web Technologies with PLC Interfacing.

Campus involvement: I have been involved in the Behrend Design Group, Triangle Fraternity, the Association of Computer Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Game Development Club, and the Behrend Engineering Ambassadors.

Jack of all computer trades: I’m extremely adept at working with just about anything related to computers. I can make apps, design video games, develop hardware from start to finish, work on industrial applications, and more. If it has a circuit board and/or operates on computer code, I can figure it out.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I’m a third-degree black belt and was a varsity lacrosse goalie for four years in high school. I can also speak German.

Beyond computers: I like to spend time outdoors. In my spare time, I enjoy biking and fishing. My favorite sport to watch is hockey, especially the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Failure is an option: When engineers are trying to solve a problem, they fail a lot. You get used to it and don’t get discouraged by it because it really is just part of the process. Learning what doesn’t work leads you to what does work.

Advice for first-year students: Hit the ground running (and studying) because classes are only going to get harder. If you start out with a work-oriented mindset and discipline, you’ll have an easier time in the later years than some of your peers.

After his graduation in May, Ryan plans to work as an embedded systems field engineer.

Class of 2017: Meet Gretchen “Berry” Haislip (Political Science)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Gretchen “Berry” Haislip:

Gretchen Haislip - first choice

Major: Political Science

Minor: Transnational Perspectives

Hometown: Smithfield, North Carolina

On choosing to Penn State Behrend: I have always known about Penn State and when it came time for me to apply to college, something told me to choose Behrend. It was the best decision of my life.

On choosing to major in Political Science: When I was in high school, I was on a path to go into forensic science, but then I took a political science class at my local college and it changed everything. I realized I had interest in politics and government.

Scholarships: I have received the Penn State Behrend Chancellor’s Scholarship, the Bunton-Waller Scholarship, and the Anonymous Friend Trustee Scholarship.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with academics, but rather how I found myself. I realized what I am capable of and what I can and want to do in my life. This ultimately led me to love who I am completely and gave me confidence to face the world head on.

Campus involvement: I’m a member of Alpha Sigma Tau where I serve as the director of philanthropy, asdirector of alumni relations, and as a judicial board representative. I’m a member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, and Phi Sigma Alpha Political Science honor society; president of the Political Science Society, vice president of College Democrats, secretary of the Outdoors Club, and a member of Bread Circus and Order of Omega. I’m also a resident assistant.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I’m only 19. I went to a hybrid high school that placed me on a college campus in ninth grade, allowing me to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time. I have only been at Behrend for two years.

Back to school: My highest priority in the near future is returning to school for both my master’s degree and Juris Doctorate degree, which I hope to earn at Georgetown University.

Who inspires her: My grandparents inspire me. They raised me and even though we had very little when I was growing up, they did everything in their power to make sure I was happy and had what I needed. Knowing that they put their dreams on hold and spent their nights working and raising me, inspires me to always do my best, not just to make them proud but to ensure that their dedication and love to me continue to be the foundation of something great.

Advice for first-year students: Do not be afraid to fail, not know the answer, or be lost. We come to college to learn!

After her graduation in May, Gretchen plans to serve in AmeriCorps before attending graduate school.

Class of 2017: Meet Connor Combs (Project and Supply Chain Management)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Connor Combs:

Connor Combs - 2nd choice

Major: Project and Supply Chain Management

Minor: Management Information Systems

Hometown: Corry, Pa.

On choosing Behrend: I liked the smaller class sizes and there were lots of opportunities to earn minors and certificates in the School of Business.

On choosing to major in Project and Supply Chain Management: I want to work in executive management and I felt like PSCM would give me a great foundation of knowledge that could be applied to any industry.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Staying on the Dean’s List while also working and being involved in various club and activities on campus.

Campus involvement: I’m president of Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity. I work at the Academic and Career Planning Center as a student ambassador, and I have participated in many intramural sports, including basketball, Frisbee, soccer, and flag football.

He stands out: I’m 6’ 4” tall, so that makes me stand out, physically. I’m also a hard worker, highly goal-oriented, driven to succeed, and a proven leader, which I hope will make me stand out in the business world.

Advice for current students: Go to events on campus. There are tons of guest speakers and company representatives who come to Behrend to share their knowledge, and they can help you advance professionally and personally. Also, use the services available at the Academic and Career Planning Center. They want to help you find and get the job or internship experiences you are after.

After his graduation in May, Connor plans to find a job in operations. At press time, he was entertaining a few offers.

Class of 2017: Meet Jake Marfin (Environmental Science)

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Jake Marfin:

Jacob Marfin

Major: Environmental Science

Minor: Biology

Hometown: Penn Hills, Pa.

On choosing Penn State Behrend: I love the smaller size of the campus and the natural beauty of it; it reminds me of camp. Behrend feels like home to me.

On choosing to major in Environmental Science: I’m constantly in awe of the world around us. The earth is so beautiful and the environment is so full of diversity. I cannot think of one day that I didn’t appreciate how amazing our planet is.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: I’m most proud of being able to conduct my own research experiment under the guidance of Dr. Pam Silver, distinguished professor of biology. Doing my own research has strengthened my love for environmental science and learning.

Salty project: My research project was “The Effects of Biochar and Salt on Festuca arundinacea (Tall Fescue).” In laymen’s terms, I was conducting research to find out if biochar, which is a specific kind of charcoal, lessens the negative effects that road salt has on grass. I studied it during three different life stages of the grass.

On narrowing down a big field: My main interest is with plants, though ecology as a subject has been my favorite thing to study. Ecology and aquatic ecology have been the most engaging classes, and they have shaped my perspective about the environment today.

On politics and science: When it comes to politics, things are constantly changing. The good thing is that at least people are talking about certain issues right now. Dr. Silver taught us this: As scientists, we have to think about issues using valid, factual information. We have to think clearly, without bias. Opinions can be misleading and sources can be unreliable, so it is important to only form an opinion when you are as scientifically informed as you can be.

Campus involvement: I was one of two lead stewards for Penn State Behrend’s Weed Warriors program. We worked to remove invasive species from Wintergreen Gorge and other areas on campus. I’ve also been in the volleyball club since my first year.

Outside the lab: In my free time, I like to play volleyball, compose and produce music, and play video games. I’ve been skiing since I was a toddler.

Where you’ll find him on a nice day: My favorite place to enjoy nature on campus is definitely Wintergreen Gorge. It is immersive.

Who inspires him: I’m inspired by Lady Gaga. She’s intelligent, talented and full of love. She motivates me to be compassionate and embrace everyone’s differences. The world needs that kind of unconditional, accepting love today.

Advice for first-year students: If you feel confused or lost, you’re not alone. Nobody knows what they are doing in their first year. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out for help.

After his graduation in May, Jake hopes to find a job in wildlife conservation, restoration, or research.