Love of writing defines O’Neill’s time at Behrend

Katherine O'Neill

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

As a child, Katie O’Neill always had a keen interest in writing and creative expression. This affinity continued when she got to grade school, and it was not long before others started to notice.

“I had a teacher when I was in first grade who told my mom to get me a journal,” O’Neill recalls.

That would seem to have been excellent advice. As O’Neill has grown up, her passion for writing has become a defining characteristic.

“I’ve always been a writer before anything else,” the Lake Winola, Pa., native says.

That passion is what brought her to Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. The college’s BFA in Creative Writing piqued her interest as the only such program in the Penn State system and one of only a few in the country.

“That was definitely the number one draw,” she says.

Through the inventive program, O’Neill, who graduated this past May, says she was able to focus intently on improving her inventive writing skills. She also improved her editing abilities serving on the staff of Lake Effect, an international literary journal published by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Penn State Behrend.

Along the way, O’Neill garnered accolades. This past year alone, her non-fiction story, “Achill Strikes Again,” won Behrend’s Farrell Nonfiction Award while her fiction piece “Juneau” was the college’s Smith Fiction Award winner. Her short fiction piece, “Tony and Rebecca” was also named an honorable mention in the Annual Creative Writing Awards, sponsored by Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, New York.

O’Neill says her inspiration comes from “the weirdest things,” but also a more traditional source. Thanks to the college’s Creative Writers Reading Series and professional conferences, O’Neill met and networked with numerous professional authors throughout her college career. With every interaction, she says she would pick up a tip or two that she put to good use.

During her time at Penn State Behrend, O’Neill was involved beyond creative writing activities. She was the captain of the college’s dance team, a member of the Behrend Choir and a writing tutor in the Learning Resource Center.

This past spring, O’Neill’s efforts were recognized with two awards: Behrend’s Eric A. and Josephine S. Walker Award and a university-wide Eclipse Award. The Walker Award recognizes a student whose character, scholarship, leadership and citizenship have been directed into student programs and services. The Eclipse Award recognizes Penn State students for service and volunteerism to their campus and local communities.

This fall, O’Neill will start pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She reflects fondly on her time at Penn State Behrend and hopes new students will choose to follow a similar path.

“My advice is to get involved from the start. I’m so glad I got involved right away. It can be overwhelming, but it’s (worth it),” she says. “I’ve made some amazing friends. I’m going to miss everything about this place.”

Childhood memory drives senior award winner to succeed

Kristina Peszel

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Call it extra motivation. Call it an added incentive. Call it a chip on her shoulder.

However you label it, it’s clear there’s something that drives Kristina Peszel.

“When I first went to grade school, I was one of the youngest kids in my class. Because of that, I felt as if people questioned me and my ability,” says Peszel, a senior English major with the professional writing option at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “Since then, it’s driven me. I have always had this need to stand out and prove myself.”

Mission accomplished.

In her time at the college, Peszel has been a standout student, as evidenced by the Eric A. and Josephine S. Walker Award she won at this year’s Honors and Awards Convocation on April 27. The award recognizes a student whose outstanding qualities of character, scholarship, leadership, and citizenship have been directed into student programs and services.

Peszel was thrilled to have been chosen for the award.

“It was really exciting, and it felt like recognition of everything that I’ve done on campus,” Peszel says.

It was a much deserved honor.

The Erie native has a 3.96 GPA and is the lead writing tutor at the Learning Resource Center. She’s served as the vice president and secretary for both the Alpha Sigma Tau sorority and Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. She’s also been a member of the Lion Entertainment Board, Reality Check, Studio Theatre, and a contributing writer for the Behrend Beacon.

Through her campus involvement, Peszel learned that she prefers to be busy. She thrives on activity, one reason she believes she’s been successful.

“If I have enough time to watch television, I feel as if I’ve forgotten something,” says Peszel, who will graduate in December.

Things have not slowed down this summer for Peszel, who is interning at Erie Insurance in the company’s IT department. The work she is doing relates directly to her experiences as lead writing tutor in the Learning Resource Center.

As a tutor, Peszel often edited various engineering papers, which provided her with skills and experience in technical writing. It has led her to think of her future in a different light.

“I realized that I’m not just a humanities student, but I can do the technology thing too,” Peszel says.

Ruth Pflueger, director of the Learning Resource Center, has worked with Peszel for the past three years at Penn State Behrend.

“Kristina is remarkable in the number of students she has impacted during her time at Behrend. She has tutored literally hundreds of students and also has a leadership role in the Learning Resource Center, organizing the Composition Support Program and mentoring new writing tutors,” Pflueger says. “Her professionalism, energy, and sincere desire to help others succeed will serve her well in all her future endeavors.”

With one semester left until graduation, Peszel plans to make some great memories and leave a legacy.

“I like surrounding myself with genuine, good people who like to help others,” Peszel says. “We can be remembered for all kinds of things, but how we affect other people’s lives is most important.”


Behrend graduate and award winner lands job with Big Four audit firm


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Meilyng Gonzalez-Adams had been planning for days, and her personal sales pitch was ready.

The senior International Business and Accounting major knew 149 companies would be in attendance at the spring Career and Internship Fair at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and she was ready to make an impression.

But life is full of surprises.

On March 19, just one day before the career fair, Gonzalez-Adams was invited to an impromptu interview with representatives from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ office in Cleveland. It didn’t take long for the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native to cancel her plans for the next day.

“PricewaterhouseCoopers called me that evening, and I called my mom and said, ‘I got a job offer, and I am not going to the career fair tomorrow,’” recalls Gonzalez-Adams, who will start her job as a tax associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s Big Four audit firms, in September.

The job offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers was the culmination of four successful years for Gonzalez-Adams, this year’s recipient of the Thomas H. Turnbull Award. The award, which recognizes a Penn State Behrend student who has contributed to the college community through outstanding qualities of character, scholarship, leadership, and citizenship, was presented to Gonzalez-Adams at the sixty-fifth annual Honors and Awards Convocation on April 27.

The award’s description fits Gonzalez-Adams. She was active during her time at Penn State Behrend as she graduated with a 3.79 GPA and served as a resident assistant and treasurer for the Alpha Sigma Tau sorority. She was a member of Penn State Behrend’s Lion Scouts, Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and Beta Gamma Sigma, the national honor society in business.

Gonzalez-Adams credits her parents, Evan Gonzalez and Olga Adams, for much of her success. The two were young when Gonzalez-Adams was born, but they both attained college degrees.

The drive displayed by her parents resonated with Gonzalez-Adams and motivated her to get involved from the moment she arrived at Behrend. She says she had some helpful guidance along the way though.

“From the moment I contacted Mary-Ellen Madigan, (director of enrollment services), in Admissions until today, everyone has been amazing at Penn State Behrend,” Gonzalez-Adams says. “I know I wouldn’t be who I am or going where I’m going without the faculty and staff here.”

The feeling seems to be mutual.

“Meilyng is an extraordinary individual and has made a lasting impression on me, the admissions staff, our visitors, and the campus,” says Andrea Konkol, associate director of admissions.

According to Konkol, the college has extended its recruiting efforts to Puerto Rico, and Gonzalez-Adams has been vital in making students feel welcome.

“In September of 2012, I held a reception in San Juan for the parents of our current students. Every one of those families knew who Meilyng was because she had taken the time to seek out and befriend their son or daughter as soon as they arrived on campus,” Konkol says. “For students arriving to a college so far from home, it is comforting to have a friend that understands what it’s like and to serve as ‘big sister.’”

Gonzalez-Adams says she enjoys helping. She recognizes the growth she’s made at Penn State Behrend, and she hopes others can have a similar experience.

“I go home and people say, ‘You’re completely different from the person you were in high school,’ and I like hearing that,” Gonzalez-Adams says. “I like that Penn State Behrend was able to help me with that.”


For Outstanding First-Year Student, the sky is the limit


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Bangladesh women do not typically come to America to pursue a college education, but there’s nothing typical about Ramisa Fariha, this year’s recipient of the Outstanding First-Year Student Award.

For starters, the Narayanganj, Bangladesh, native, who recently completed her first year as a Biomedical Engineering student at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, is a diehard professional wrestling fan. She draws inspiration from her favorite World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler, Batista.

As a child, Fariha would watch wrestling with her brother, Sajjadul Karim Chowdhury. They both had their share of favorite wrestlers, but there was something about Batista that resonated with Fariha.

“Batista’s favorite quote is, ‘Work hard and the sky is the limit,’” Fariha says. “That’s become my favorite quote.”

But it’s more than just an inspirational catchphrase for Fariha. It’s a guiding philosophy that she has taken to heart.

Fariha has a lofty goal.

“In my country, a woman is always blamed when she cannot give birth, even when it’s not her fault,” Fariha says. “I want to one day create an artificial ovary, and I want it to be non-mechanical, so it can work inside the human body.”

While she knows her aim is high, she’s confident that hard work will get her there, and she’s wasted no time at Penn State Behrend, swinging for the fences in her very first year.

Not only does she have a 3.82 GPA, but she is a member of the Lion Entertainment Board, event correspondent for The Behrend Beacon, Residence Life Service Leader for Center of Service, a member of the Lambda Sigma national honor society and the 2014-2015 elected president for the Muslim Student Association.

Fariha says she thought of Batista often during her studies and even rewarded herself with a silver Batista pendant after winning the Outstanding First-Year Student Award at the sixty-fifth annual Honors and Awards Convocation on April 27.

She says she also attributes some of her success at Penn State Behrend to the warm welcome she has received. She describes Dr. Mary-Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management, as a “second mother,” and says her professors and friends have also made her feel at home.

Fariha says winning the award, which recognizes a first-year student who demonstrates outstanding promise of character, scholarship, leadership, and citizenship through achievements in his or her first year of study, was a moment she will never forget.

“For me, when I heard Kelly Shrout, (presenter and associate director of Student Affairs), say ‘Bangladesh,’ that was the proudest moment of my life,” she says. “A lot of people think of Bangladesh and only think about the negative things.”

Fariha says the award made her family very proud. Her father, Ahsanul Karim Chowdhury, is one of the top lawyers in Bangladesh and has always emphasized education. Fariha’s mother, Laila Nahar Chowdury, taught her to work hard and to not take anything for granted. Her brother, Sajjadul Karim Chowdhury, has encouraged her at every step along the way.

“This award shows that I’m here to do something special,” Fariha says.

Fariha says she is excited to return to Narayanganj this summer, so she can watch wrestling with her nieces and start a new generation of fans. She knows some people say professional wrestling is fake, but she doesn’t care.

“If you start to rationalize everything, you lose the fun in life,” Fariha said.

Fariha hopes that more students from Bangladesh will consider coming to Penn State Behrend in the future. From the moment she started to look at colleges, Fariha said Behrend just felt like home, and she believes other Bangladesh natives could have a similar experience.

Her best advice to new students?

“Don’t be afraid to be yourself. There will always be people who will like who you are and some who don’t,” Fariha says. “I would change nothing about my first year at Penn State Behrend because I’ve been myself.”

Margaret Eimers caps off time at Penn State Behrend by winning Hetzel Award


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Margaret Eimers regularly reminds her children that a person is not defined by his or her past mistakes.

She would know. She’s proved it.

More than twenty years ago, Eimers dropped out of high school during her sophomore year after she failed a class and became fed up with school.

Now, in a few days, the Erie native is about to walk in her first commencement ceremony. She will graduate with a 3.94 grade point average and bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. How’s that for juxtaposition?

When it comes to Eimers, graduation is the icing on the cake.

Throughout her time at the college, Eimers has been president of the Penn State Behrend Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society, vice president of the Society of Undergraduate Economists, and a member of Psi Chi International Psychology Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society, and the National Society of Leadership and Success. She has also served as an ambassador for adult student open houses and a career counseling intern at the Academic and Career Planning Center.

Eimers was recognized for all of her collegiate accomplishments on April 27 when she was awarded a Ralph Dorn Hetzel Memorial Award at the Sixty-fifth Annual Honors and Awards Convocation at Penn State Behrend. The award is named after Penn State’s tenth president and recognizes a combination of high scholastic achievement with good citizenship, and participation and leadership in student activities.

While Eimers may not have had a high school diploma, she always had a thirst for knowledge and cognition. Prior to enrolling at Penn State Behrend, she worked for eleven years as a crossing guard and estimated that she read at least fifty books annually during her downtime while directing traffic. Eventually, Eimers was asked to stop reading during her shifts, which led her to consider college.

“I said, ‘Why am I doing this when I really could be learning?’” said Eimers, who earned her GED after dropping out of school.

Eimers decided to apply to college, and Penn State Behrend was at the top of her list as she was aware of the value that a Penn State degree carries. Unfortunately, her application was initially denied.

“I went through the appeals process to become a student here,” Eimers said. “After I wrote an essay and was accepted, I then began as a provisional student.”

Eimers started as an Accounting major, a subject she had previously studied at a business school in Pittsburgh.

Accounting worked initially for Eimers, but something was missing.

“I can do accounting, and I do like it, but what I do is build relationships; what I do is help people,” Eimers said.

That drive led Eimers to change her major to Psychology with the goal of one day becoming an academic counselor.

Upon graduation, Eimers will work for the summer in the Academic and Career Planning Center. She’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Greg, as well as her children, David and Rebekah, who she said have been extremely supportive during her time as a Penn State Behrend student.

Eimers’ story as an adult student is far from over though.

In the fall, she begins work on a master of arts in counseling from Edinboro University. It’s just the latest stop in her academic journey.

“I like to call this my very happy mid-life crisis,” Eimers said. “I feel as if I have exceeded my expectations. Life is a moving target though, so now I’ll create new expectations. “

We’re sure she’ll hit the bullseye.