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.”

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