Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Briona Bargerstock (Psychology)  

Penn State Behrend’s Class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world! We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Briona Bargerstock.   


Major: Psychology

Hometown: Kittanning, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: Bunton Waller Scholarship, Meads Scholarship, Phillips Trustees Scholarship, Todd Leadership Scholarship, Wright Leadership Scholarshipo, and the Chancellor Award Scholarship

On finding the right fit: When I was searching for a college, I had a hard time figuring out all the things you need to know to enter college. All my worries were quickly alleviated after I spoke with a representative for Penn State Behrend who was willing to work with me on the application process. When I visited and walked around the campus, I got an overwhelming feeling that this is where I belonged. Four years later, I can say that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

On choosing her major: I wanted to help individuals who could not help themselves and be a representative for people of color in mental health services.

Her proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My proudest accomplishment will be graduating from college! It is something that I never thought I would do. I am the oldest child in my family and being able to graduate and serve as a role model to my siblings means the world to me. I have worked very hard for my degree. I’ve grown and accomplished so much during these last four years. I am grateful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am.

Campus involvement: During my time at Behrend I was involved in Random Acts of Kindness, Penn State Behrend Dems, Psi Chi, Psychology Club, Association of Black Collegians, Behrend Leadership Scholars, Academic Integrity Student Representative, Humanities and Social Sciences Ambassador, and the Student Multicultural Advisory Recruitment Team, and I worked as a Reed Union Building Desk Information Attendant. I also was a staff writer for the Behrend Beacon newspaper.

Awards and recognition: I received the T. Reed Ferguson Award during my junior year for my leadership both in both academic and nonacademic settings; the Outstanding Psychology Student award; and the Excellence in Service Award that I received as vice president of Random Acts of Kindness for our project with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Erie. We made cards for veterans so that they would not feel lonely on holidays and birthdays.

What makes her unique: I am a big sister and that translates into everything that I do. This has given me a love of helping others and comforting individuals who may need a shoulder to cry on. I have an immense sense of empathy for all individuals, and I carry that into both my social and professional life.

Finding her confidence: I think people would be surprised to know that I used to be really scared of public speaking. Through my time working at the Reed Union Building Information Desk and learning from my supervisor, Christa Morris, I was able to develop my public speaking skills. Now, I can talk to large groups of people, give speeches, and chat to potential students and their families at recruiting events. The irony is that something I was terrified of when I started college is something I now love to do.

Her passion: I am passionate about equality, and I implement that into everything that I do. I always try my absolute hardest to make everyone whom I work with feel included and accepted for who they are. I feel that too often certain groups are silenced, and I strive to make every individual feel heard. I know what it is like to not be heard, and that is why I have worked so hard to get where I am and be able to serve as representation for the next generation of students entering college.

Advice for first-year students: Calm down. Life will work out how it is supposed to work out. I spent way too long stressing about having everything perfect, only to realize later that you cannot live in the present if all you do is worry about the future. Live in the now and enjoy what is happening in your life every day. The future will work out exactly how it is supposed to in due time.

Parting words: I’m so grateful for all the things I’ve gained at Behrend, including phenomenal professors, best friends, love, confidence, and so much more.

Briona has been accepted to the Applied Clinical Psychology master’s program at Penn State Behrend. She will start in the fall.

Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Kendrick Imler (Communication)

Penn State Behrend’s Class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world! We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Kendrick Imler.

KendrickImler copy

Major: Communication

Hometown: Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania

On choosing Behrend: I chose Behrend because of the smaller campus size. With fewer students in my classes, I have been able to make connections with my professors and peers. I don’t feel like I am just a number in any of the classes I have ever taken during my time at Behrend.

On choosing his major: I’ve always enjoyed talking to people and I wanted to go into broadcast journalism.

Master juggler: I’m proud to have made the Dean’s List the past four semesters while being involved in many different clubs and activities.

Campus involvement: I was a resident assistant for two years. I am a member of the Ultimate Frisbee Club and historian for the Lion Ambassadors Club, played percussion in the Behrend Pep Band, and was in three musical productions. I was also a Lion Scout and gave tours to prospective students and their families.

What makes him unique: I’m a very energetic person and I do my best to make people laugh and feel comfortable in any situation.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I sang backup for Kenny Rogers when I was in high school.

His definition of living a good life: Waking up in the morning in a bed with a roof over your head and knowing that you have friends and family who love you.

Sports nut: I’m passionate about sports. I enjoy watching and playing all different sports.

Advice for first-year students: It is important to know that you are not alone in college. Every first-year student is in a new situation. Put yourself out there as much as possible. Join clubs and attend events. Talk to people and do everything you can fit into your schedule because you might as well make the most of your time at college!

Parting thoughts: Penn State Behrend has the best faculty and staff. They are not only helpful, but welcoming. When I first moved to Behrend, I was scared and nervous, but everyone made me feel welcome, and I am so grateful to have been accepted to Behrend. I have made friends and memories here that will last for the rest of my life.

After his graduation in May, Kendrick hopes to find work in media production.

Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Mallory Flesik (Psychology and Political Science)

Penn State Behrend’s Class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet  Mallory Flesik.


Majors: Dual majoring in Psychology and Political Science

Minor: Crime, Law, and Psychology

Hometown: Herminie, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: Edmund L. Lada Memorial Trustee Scholarship; Penn State Behrend Chancellor’s Scholarship; Mel Chrostowski Scholarship; Edward P. and Barbara F. Junker Scholarship; Allyn and Alice Wright Leadership Scholarship.

Awards: Outstanding Political Science Award, Writing Award from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Zachary T. Irwin Humanitarian Award.

Family ties: I chose Behrend because my older brother went to Behrend, which allowed me to see the opportunity that the college offers. After going on my tour of the campus, I knew that Behrend was the right choice for me, especially after seeing how beautiful it is in the fall.

On choosing her major: I chose Political Science because I am passionate about equality and civil rights, and I want to make a difference in the criminal justice system. I added Psychology as a second major at the end of my sophomore year because I like studying the science behind the way people think. I also wanted to have two majors to diversify my experiences and education.

Campus involvement: I was president of College Democrats, president of Pi Sigma Alpha, vice president/social media coordinator/secretary of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, and vice president of the Behrend Political Society. I also was a resident assistant for two years, as well as a member of Behrend Leadership Scholars Psychology Club, and Psi Chi, and I have been involved in musical theater.

What makes her unique: I am driven to help individuals from all walks of life.

Her mission:  I am passionate about using my privilege to give a voice to those who are silenced or marginalized.

Advice for first-year students: Don’t think that you have to stay in the major you decided on when you applied or started at school. Be open to opportunity and to exploring what Penn State has to offer.

Parting thoughts: I would like to thank all my professors and others who have helped me get to where I am today. I would not be here without all that support!

After her graduation, Mallory plans to work for a year or so to gain some experience. Then, she would like to attend graduate school to major in forensic psychology.


Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Erin Mooney (ARTSA, DIGIT)

Penn State Behrend’s Class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today we’d like you to meet Erin Mooney.

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Majors: Dual majoring in Arts Administration and Digital Media, Arts and Technology

Minor: French

Hometown: North East, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: Erie Insurance Open Doors Scholarship, McCain Family Foundation Trustee Scholarship, Ethel and Irvin Kochel Scholarship for International Study, Jim and Lynn Levinson Memorial Scholarship for Behrend’s Educational Partnership Program, John K. Henne Endowment for Internal Study, Internal Scholarship, Addison Gibson Foundation, Nancy J. Anderson Trustee Scholarship, NTIP(IB)-Edu Abroad.

On choosing her major: I chose my majors because arts and media are things that I am passionate about.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Graduating with two majors. Despite the many difficulties life has thrown at me during my college career, I persevered and made it.

Farm to campus: I lived on a farm while attending school and did not have a lot of spare time for extracurricular activities.

What makes her unique: I think my mind works differently than most. I am very creative, and I like to apply that to whatever I am working on. It makes assignments and work more interesting when I can add some of my own twists.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I have quite a few health issues that cause me a lot of pain each day. From chronic illnesses to injuries from an accident, I have been through the wringer. However, I work hard to make each day worth the effort!

What constitutes a good life for her: Doing what brings you happiness and trying to share that joy with others.

Her passions: I love color theory and making art. Also, “world building,” everything from storytelling to character-building.

Advice for first-year students: There are a lot of college resources, from the commuter lounge to the Personal Counseling Center to the Learning Resource Center where you can get tutoring. If you are struggling with anything, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

After her graduation in May, Erin plans to look for work in a field that aligns with her majors.

Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Matt Strupczewski (Political Science and Marketing)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Matt Strupczewski: 


Majors: Dual majoring in Political Science and Marketing

Minor: Military Studies

Hometown: Erie

Scholarships: Merwin Trustee Matching Scholarship, Irving Kochel Leadership Scholarship, Penn State Academic Grant, Zachary T. Irwin Humanitarian Award

On choosing Behrend: I knew I had to put myself through school, so I was looking for the most cost-effective option. Behrend was by far the best value. It allowed me to live at home to save even more money and still earn a Penn State degree, which opens the door to many career and continuing education opportunities.

On choosing his major: I am intrigued by the world of politics and hope to run for office myself one day. Marketing came naturally to me as I have always been business-minded. Dual majoring allowed me to draw the two together. I believe if I can market a product, I can market myself, and vice versa.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Becoming president of the Student Government Association. This position has allowed me to do so much to improve services and activities, and even support faculty needs on our campus. The ability to make real change and help our community has been the most fulfilling opportunity I have been able to take part in.

Campus involvement: I’m a member of the Lion Ambassadors, Penn State Army ROTC, and College Republicans.

What makes him unique: I think I have a high level of charisma. When it comes to sales, management, and even leadership situations, I am able to work well with a lot of people. I think this will help me in my career and personal life, as it is an important social skill in today’s world.

What you’d be surprise to know about him: I am only 21, but I am married and have already bought my first house. This was all while I went to school, averaging about 25 credits per semester and working, too.

What makes a good life: Finding your sense of fulfillment. There is no one way to live a good life. For me, it is a happy medium of having a job I enjoy with a good work-life balance.

A future full of options: I often think of new ways to apply my skills but have a hard time narrowing down which one to pursue. Do I get a graduate degree? Make an early run for a local election? Continue furthering my career as a real estate agent? This year has been a very introspective year for me, as I have been doing a deeper dive into the question, “What is my why?”

Passionate about public service: I love finding a way to use my skills to help people. With the skills I have developed here at Behrend, especially with my Student Government Association experience, I can’t wait to become an elected official. No matter what level office they hold, elected officials have the power and ability to make their community a better place. Today, it feels that too many of our officials are more concerned with reelection or serving themselves than with working to make things better.

Advice for first-year students: My younger self would have suggested students work as much as they can outside of school, but I now feel it is important to find a healthy middle ground. Of course, prioritize school, but work and social time should also be included for your own mental health and enjoyment of life.

From graduation to service: I am currently in the National Guard and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in May. I have learned a lot in the guard and appreciate how it has helped me develop and mature, personally.

After his graduation in May, Matt plans to continue serving in the National Guard while pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree at Behrend. In the future, he plans to run for political office.

Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Lydia Glenn (English)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Lydia Glenn:


Major: English

Minor: Biology

Hometown: Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania

Connecting at Behrend: I chose Behrend because of its small classes and its convenient location. I value relationships with professors, and Behrend’s size allows for more student-professor connections. The relationships with my professors have created several opportunities for me in furthering my education and career.

On choosing her major: I chose English with a focus in professional writing because I have a love of research and writing. Editing and writing, whether professionally or technically, are my areas of expertise, So I decided to utilize my skills and find a career that fits me.

Sharing her skills: One of my proudest accomplishments at Behrend was teaching Italian water polo players English. The players were taking part in a summer camp on campus, and it was such a rewarding experience. I was able to use my knowledge of the English language to teach them conversation and phrases for social settings.

Campus involvement: I am a Humanities and Social Sciences Ambassador, tutor at the LRC, and was news editor of the Behrend Beacon last year.

Interdisciplinary interests: One thing that makes me unique is my love of both the humanities and the sciences. I love English, writing, and reading literature, but I also love biology and the research that comes with it. My knowledge of both English and biology makes me a person who can type a grammatically and thematically accurate scientific paper.

She loves language and animals: People might be surprised to know that I own three ferrets. During my internship at the Erie Zoo, I fell in love with the ferrets. After that, I started rescuing them from local shelters. Of course, I started with just one, but then two more needed homes.

Her definition of living a good life: I think a good life is finding something you’re passionate about and turning it into a career. I also believe that everyone should strive to make the world a better place and should use their brains and individual skills for good. A good life is made of selfless acts.

What’s next: My highest priority for the next few years is to obtain a master’s degree and find a job in the field of publishing and/or writing.

What fires her up: I am passionate about reading and writing first and foremost. I am also passionate about certain political movements like women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental activism. I am also passionate about animals, and I urge everyone looking to own a pet to adopt from local shelters.

Advice for first year students: Go to counseling. I am a firm believer that everyone needs someone to talk to. Counseling at Penn State Behrend is free, so why not utilize their services while you are here?

After her graduation in May, Lydia plans to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University.

Students Spend Spring Break in Washington, D.C.

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager

Office of Strategic Communication, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend students with U.S. Senator Bob Casey Jr. at the Capitol Building in Washinton, D.C.

Political Science class gets a first-hand look at how U.S. government works

It’s one thing to study the U.S. government and how it operates in Washington, D.C. It’s another to experience it, walking the same halls that senators and congresspersons do, sitting in the same courtrooms where federal judges preside, and meeting with foreign ambassadors and lobbyists.

“After being taught in the classroom, actually seeing the historical locations in person gave me a whole new perspective,” said Justin Lopez-Beltran, a second-year student dual majoring in Political Science and Economics.

More than a dozen Penn State Behrend students enrolled in Dr. Robert Speel’s PLSC 177N Politics and Government of Washington, D.C., spent their spring break in our nation’s capital where they squeezed a lot into one week.

The group met with members of Congress and leaders of federal government agencies; received briefings from foreign embassies and international organizations; participated in seminars led by interest groups, political party officials, and consultants; and toured government offices and facilities. They visited monuments, memorials, museums, and Arlington National Cemetery, and met with many Penn State Behrend alumni who live and work in D.C.

Among the alumni in D.C. is U.S. Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), a 2004 Political Science graduate, who serves on the House Rules Committee and invited the students to sit in on a committee meeting.

with Guy Reschenthaler
Penn State Behrend students with U.S. Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), a 2004 Political Science graduate (center in striped tie) in Washinton, D.C.

“This is not something the average person can do,” said Casey Mitolo, a fourth-year Political Science major. “He even gave a shout out to the class and Dr. Speel during the meeting. It was special.”

“My favorite part was visiting Capitol Hill and seeing all the politicians you admire and even some you might disagree with,” Lopez-Beltran said. “After taking multiple political science courses, it was fascinating to see politicians we have discussed and even argued about in the classroom.”

Classmate Nicklas Richar, a second-year Political Science major, agreed. “It was really cool to be inside the Capitol building and to see all the senators and representatives I’ve watched on TV and realize that they are real people doing an actual job.”

Mason Milliard, a third-year Political Science major, said he especially enjoyed meeting with Behrend alumnae Yuri Unno, director for international trade policy for Toyota, and Elizabeth Buck, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Marshals Service. “It was also really interesting to watch votes from the Senate and House galleries and sit in for a lecture at the Supreme Court,” he said.

Mitolo was surprised by the number of Behrend alumni in the capital. “It was extremely eye-opening to see all the doors that a Behrend Political Science degree can open,” he said. “We met alumni who work as political consultants, representatives, union leaders, and much more.”

The students interviewed for this story all agreed that the experience solidified their career choices.

“It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life,” Richar said. “Every single place that we visited had a rich history and important part in how our government functions. It really inspired me to continue in my career path, and I learned that the potential for jobs in this field is endless.”

“This trip 100 percent solidified my career decision,” Lopez-Beltran said. “I learned that there are countless opportunities in D.C. and a wide variety of options from campaign work to legislative work to lobbying.”

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4 Takeaways

Things are not always what they seem: “I learned that, occasionally, lobbyists are the ones who have to rein in the legislators,” Milliard said. “It was surprising to hear that, from a lobbyist’s perspective, they sometimes must remind politicians that the ideas they are pushing are unrealistic. This contradicted a belief I had that politicians were the ones who had to curtail persistent ‘radical’ lobbyists.”

It’s more complicated than it seems. “I learned how many outside influences affect how lawmakers make legislation,” Richar said. “We learn in class about the types of legislation they create but not always about the work that goes into it or what causes lawmakers to think the way they do. Now, after meeting them, I have a much better understanding.”

Prepare for a workout.  “The trip was exhausting!” Mitolo said. “We walked more than ten miles one day, according to my Apple watch. But it was totally worth it.”

D.C. runs on youth. “One of the staff members that I spoke to privately made a joke about how the government is really run by a bunch of 20-year-olds, and it made me laugh because it was clear that there was an element of truth to it,” Lopez-Beltran said. “They were the ones rushing around delivering mail, moving legislation, setting up tours, and more.”

Penn State Behrend students meet with some Behrend alumni who live and work in Washington, D.C.

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Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Skylar Lint (Elementary and Early Childhood Education)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Skylar Lint:


Major: Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Minor: Special Education

Hometown: Waterford, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: Chancellor’s Scholarship, Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship.

On choosing Behrend: Behrend always felt like home to me. The first time I visited, I felt so safe. The Behrend community is like no other; everyone is so caring.

On choosing her major: I’ve always wanted to change the world, and I knew that teaching was one way I could do that. Teachers can have great impact.

A leader in the classroom and out: My proudest accomplishment has been maintaining a 3.5 cumulative GPA, as well as serving as the president of my sororityAlpha Sigma Alpha—for the past two years and holding an executive board position on Panhellenic Council for three years.

What makes her unique: Making people feel comfortable and heard. I am a compassionate and outgoing person.

What makes an A+ life: Being surrounded by people who you love. What better way to be happy than being with with those you adore the most?

Her next assignment: To get a teaching job so I can shape the minds of young children and open doors for them like my teachers did for me. I want to show children that learning is fun.

Advice for first-year students: Be adventurous and try new things. Join clubs where you can make new friends. Enjoy every moment. Four years goes faster than you think!

Lessons from the 100 Acre Wood: I love this quote from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”  I feel very lucky to have gone to a college like Behrend that I am going to have a hard time leaving.

After her graduation in May, Skylar plans to work as an elementary school teacher.

Standout Seniors ’23: Meet Emily Clopp (Psychology)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2023 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and all that they have learned and accomplished here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technologies, participated in important research projects, and made their mark at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Emily Clopp: 

Emily Clopp

Major: Psychology with a certificate in Child Development

Hometown: Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: John H. Devitt Scholarship

Finding a home at Behrend: I chose Behrend for many reasons. First, because I could earn a Penn State degree and the alumni base is massive. Behrend is also a beautiful campus and has a homey feel to it. Additionally, I wanted to play soccer, and I knew Behrend had a successful program with great coaches.

Why she chose her major: The brain has always fascinated me. I love its complexity. I knew majoring in psychology would give me the opportunity to learn more about the brain and the numerous disorders associated with it, as well as gain an understanding of why humans behave the way they do. It also provided a good foundation for graduate school, as a lot of the prerequisites are psychology courses like developmental psychology and abnormal psycholohy, both of which I loved.

Excelling on the field and in the classroom: From an academic standpoint, my proudest accomplishment has been maintaining a 4.0 grade point average while balancing work, school, social life, and soccer. From an athletic standpoint, my proudest moment would be winning the AMCC championship with my team in the 2021 season and competing in the NCAA tournament.

Campus involvement: Two-year captain of the women’s soccer team; group leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes; volunteer in the TOPS soccer program; member of Psi Chi honor society and the Psychology club.

Awards and recognitions: President’s Freshman award, Chi Alpha Sigma Athletic Honors Society, Academic All-Conference every soccer season, Dean’s List every semester, Scholarship/Leadership Award from the team (voted on by teammates).

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I transferred to Behrend after my first year of college at the University of Akron where I played Division I soccer. In high school, I was a member of Team USA for dance/baton twirling. We competed in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, where we won the World Championships. Finally, people would be surprised to know that I am very emotional and still tear up at most Disney movies, especially Monsters, Inc.

Passions at play: I am passionate about helping people. I especially love working with older adults and those with special needs, so I’m very excited about my future career. I also love soccer and hope to find an adult recreational league to play in.

Advice for first-year students: Be proactive and find a routine. Also, know that even when school get stressful and overwhelming, you will get through it. Finally, get involved as much as you can because having a support system makes college a lot easier.

Following her graduation in May, Emily plans to attend graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh to get a doctorate in occupational therapy. She hopes to specialize in neurology or work with those who have special needs.

Secret Lives of Faculty: Ricardo Estremera, home remodeler and Olympic-level athlete

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing on campus. In this occasional series, we take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time. 

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


What’s an Olympic-level runner to do when he is injured and can’t work out and the entire country is taking a pandemic pause? How does a guy who runs sub-4-minute-miles survive being stuck at home for months?

He flips.

A house.

Trading in his racing flats for a tool belt, Ricardo Estremera, 36, assistant teaching professor of Spanish, and his wife, Sherez Mohamed, a professor of Spanish and linguistics at Mercyhurst University in Erie, invested in a fixer-upper and got to work.

“We figured it would keep me busy,” said Estremera, who was training for a spot on the Puerto Rico Olympic steeplechase team when Achille’s tendon issues forced a layoff.

The couple had their work cut out for them. The house, while solidly built, needed an entire interior overhaul.


“The home was built in the 1890s, and I think cats have been peeing in it since 1891,” Mohamed wrote in a post on the Instagram page—The Professors Flip—that the couple started to document the progress of turning a $33,000 stinker into a sparkling, modern home on a tight budget.

Estremera approached the job with all the energy and enthusiasm he would have spent at the track, as did Mohamed who did her share of the remodeling, renovating, and restoration work, too.  Estremera learned his handyman skills as a reluctant teenage helper to his father, repairing things around their home in Puerto Rico.

“When you’re a kid, parents make you do things and you hate it, but you end up learning a lot,” he said. “I didn’t like having to help fix things back then, but I love it now. Going to Home Depot is a good day for me.”

As soon as they closed on the house, they began a to-the-studs overhaul and transformed it into a modern home with an open concept. (See  photos on Instagram. Click on the “Before and After” story.)

“The first house was an experiment to see if we could do it,” Estremera said. “We learned a lot. It’s amazing what you can figure out watching YouTube tutorials.”

Given the results, they decided to renovate another home – a duplex, which they are now renting out.

Being landlords wasn’t in the original plan for Estremera and Mohamed. It’s more of an altruistic endeavor than a business for them.

“We decided we wanted to provide beautiful, affordable housing for people in Erie,” he said. “The city has lots of old houses with charm that are not taken care of, and the landlords don’t seem to care. We do. We will take care of our properties and renters.”

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Behrend Blog caught up with Estremera after he wrapped up a morning workout (yes, he’s back in training) to learn more about his life off campus.

What are the things you’re looking for when you’re investing in a new property?

We are very patient and look for deals in neighborhoods that are in the sweet spot. For example, houses in one area of Erie might be $130,000, but if you go a few blocks in any direction, you can find them for $60-$70,000. We are looking for residential areas where we can find a bargain, fix it up, and improve the community.

We also look at what the home needs, especially if there are any big-ticket improvements needed, such as a roof, electric, furnace, chimney or foundation repairs. These things are not deal-breakers, but we need to factor that in and make sure the renovation will pay off.

How many properties have worked on?

Our first was the home we live in. Then, we did the duplex, and we just bought another house.

So, you don’t actually “flip” them?

No. We learned that it’s actually very hard to make money flipping houses. The more time you spend doing it, the less cost effective it is.

Do you do all the home renovation work yourselves?

Most of it, yes. I enjoy the challenge, and it’s cost-effective to do the work yourself. Neither of us love painting, but it’s expensive to hire someone to do it, so we paint to save that money for other things, such as electrical work.

What have you learned the hard way?

Old houses are not square.

What are your top tips for anyone who might want to do what you do?

Do your research, shop around, and negotiate. I do a lot of research when we are looking for a new property, contractor or appliances/materials. I know how much things should cost. We shop around, even when looking for a bank loan, and we negotiate. My wife is an expert negotiator.

Switching gears, how is the running going? Are you injury-free now?

I am injury-free now, but I have found that it’s hard to stay in shape over winter in Erie due to the lack of indoor facilities. A treadmill is fine for a regular run, but not when you’re doing fast-paced training and I cannot run hurdles until at least April, so I’m months behind my competition. My plan is to train for longer distance (half marathon) in the fall and winter, then slowly shift to track season.

What are you training for now?

My end goal in the 2023 season is to wear my Puerto Rican jersey at the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC Games) and Pan American Games.  After the 2023 season, I will retire from track and field and compete in road races, like 5k, 10k, 21k and 42k.

Do you train with anyone?

I wish that I could. It’s hard to find partners who can run my pace. I do my hard workouts at a sub-4:00 to 4:30 (minutes per mile) pace. A recovery day is a 5:45 to 6:30 pace. I do volunteer with Behrend’s track-and-field team, though.

When did you start running?

I was about 15 or 16 years old when I started running seriously. Before that, I was a competitive swimmer. I hated it, though. I only did it because my brothers did, so we all went. When I started running, I knew that it would be my ticket to college.  (Editor’s note: It was not only his ticket to college, but to a spot on the Puerto Rico Olympic team in the steeplechase. Read more about that here).

What do you enjoy about running?

It’s relaxing and it’s my time to think. I get a lot of work done while I’m running. I like to teach and then run because it gives me time to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and what I might change.

Switching gears again…Why should students consider a Spanish minor?  

A second language is an asset to any field or major and will make you stand out. In a global world, being bilingual is beneficial. It also gives you the full experience when traveling abroad. It will open the doors to another world!

You are a full-time faculty member, a husband, a member of the Puerto Rico Olympic team, a volunteer with the college’s track team, and a Ph.D. candidate who renovates homes in his spare time. What do you say to students who don’t turn in their assignments on time?

(Laughs). I say: Do you have a better excuse than I might to not get your work done? But seriously, I tell them they need a plan. Look at your calendar and fill it in with your No. 1 priorities and things that can’t move, such as classes. Then, find the gaps in your schedule to fit in other things—a workout, lunch, a date, meal prep, etc. Time management is key to success.