New Kensington staff master higher education degree programs

Numerous campus positions held by postgraduate degree-holders

Karen Harlan, left, multimedia specialist for the campus, receives the inaugural Outstanding Service to Campus Community award in May from Chancellor Kevin Snider. Harlan also earned an MBA in May from Penn State. Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- Although all Penn State New Kensington department directors hold master’s degrees, trending upward is a number of assistant directors, coordinators and specialists who also completed postgraduate programs.

In the past seven years, nine staff members earned master’s and doctoral degrees. Holding master’s degrees are: Lauren Blum, assistant to the director of student affairs; Sarah Conte, assistant coordinator of academic and career services; Corinne Coulson, enrollment services specialist; Danielle DeStefano, assistant director of enrollment management; Karen Harlan, multimedia specialist; Ruth Herstek, administrative support staff; Wesley Sheets, public safety manager; and Jim Shields, career services coordinator. Sean Bridgen, academic advising manager, has a doctorate.

“We have a whole group of extremely well-educated and well-prepared staff who are finding ways to use what they've learned to create even more opportunities for our students,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus. “It isn't just that they value higher education, it is the sacrifices they've had to make to acquire additional degrees. “

The offices of Enrollment Management, headed by Patty Brady, and Academic Affairs, under the supervision of Andrea Adolph, pave the way with three postgraduate degree holders each. The Student Affairs office, directed by Theresa Bonk, follows with two. Chancellor Kevin Snider's office rounds out the field.

"When our staff members earn advanced degrees, we all benefit," Brady said. "The new ideas and techniques they learn and then incorporate into their job responsibilities enhance the quality of the campus, and the experiences we can provide for our students."

“We have knowledgeable and experienced staff who are passionate and enthusiastic and bring a higher level of understanding of college student development that is unmatched by our competitors,” Bonk said. “This has greatly enhanced our ability to provide quality services and programs to our students that is reflected in our positive retention rates. Since many of the staff are also recent graduates from their programs, we gain personnel who are up to date with the latest research, skilled in the use of current technology and are savvy about how best to connect with students through the use of social media.”

A common thread among the degree holders is receiving recognition of their exemplary work ethic and serving in leadership positions, both on off campus. Coulson, DeStefano and Harlan are recipients of "We Are!” awards. “We Are!” is a University-wide initiative that provides students, faculty and staff with a platform to give kudos to fellow Penn Staters for work that goes above and beyond their job duties or responsibilities.

Shields and Harlan were named the inaugural recipients of the campus’ Outstanding Service to Students and Outstanding Service to Campus Community certificates, respectively. The awards were developed to recognize staff members who have made a valuable impact on the campus, whether through interactions with students or faculty, or through the development of new systems, policies and programs.

Herstek received Penn State’s Outstanding Office Professional award, which annually recognizes an administrative support employee who has provided exceptional meritorious service on behalf of Penn State. She also heads the campus Green Team, a group of students, faculty and staff volunteers who are committed to reducing waste and exploring ways to use resources responsibly. Sustainability is a key initiative of Chancellor

Snider’s five-year strategic plan that was unveiled last year. It cuts across several of the strategic goals and highlights the campus’ intent to become an even more important leader in the community. Sustainability, poverty initiatives and STEM programming are the main ingredients in the campus plan, and the campus is engaging the community in these critical areas.

Bridgen was honored nationally with the Outstanding Advising Certificate of Merit by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), an association of professional advisers, counselors, faculty, administrators, and students working to enhance the educational development of students. Shields is is the past president and executive board member of Western Pennsylvania Career Services (WestPACS) Association, a consortium of 44 colleges and universities in western Pennsylvania.

Blum is president of the New Kensington Staff Senate. She also serves as the contact for regional student activities initiatives for the western campuses. Sheets is a firefighter for the California Volunteer Fire Department where he holds the rank of second lieutenant.

“Given the resources available to them, the breadth of responsibilities and duties everyone has, and the recognition we're getting for the quality of service we deliver, it is becoming clear that we have some of the best people in the system,” Snider said. “Putting students first is something that permeates our campus, and I'm amazed at how much that drives our folks. Those getting additional degrees are doing so to advance themselves and their careers, but they are also doing it to be even more proficient in helping students and the campus.”

Lauren BlumBlum was named student life coordinator in 2011 and assumed her current position in 2013. Working out of the Student Life office, Blum is responsible for student leadership development and student activities. Her duties include providing administrative support to student clubs and organizations, coordinating cultural programs and events, and advising the Student Government Association.

A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., Blum is a graduate of Lock Haven University with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration/Recreation Management. She earned a master's in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2012.

Blum heads the campus’ Penn State in Pittsburgh program, which provides opportunities for students from four campuses in western Pennsylvania to experience the best of what the city of Pittsburgh has to offer. Beginning its third year, the program brings together students from the campuses of Beaver, Fayette, Greater Allegheny and New Kensington for a series of events highlighting the city’s educational, cultural, athletic and shopping benefits. During the next several months, campus students can participate in the Warhol Museum workshop, dine at Conflict Kitchen, tour Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and visit the Carnegie museums. A Gateway Clipper Boat Cruise, Kennywood Night and a Pittsburgh Pirates game were held earlier in the semester. More than 300 students took in the Pirates game, making it the most attended event in the history of the Penn State in Pittsburgh program. About 120 students went to the first Pirates game in 2013.

Sarah ConteWorking at the campus for just over a year, Conte is a relative newcomer to Penn State. She is the adviser for the Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), which is designed to assist students with academic concerns and educational plans. The program helps students evaluate their educational plans and objectives prior to attending classes. Enrollment in DUS allows exploration in programs of study or to meet requirements for a change of a program. She also helps coordinate the GREAT (Growing Regional Excellence through Experience, Academics and Training): The program matches promising engineering and information sciences and technology students with local internship opportunities. The GREAT program is a partnership between the New Kensington campus, the Penn State Electro-Optics Center and industries within the greater Pittsburgh region. This year, a record eight freshmen were accepted in to the GREAT program. They will interview for paid internship in the spring.

Conte received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Thiel College in 2012 before earning a master’s in Student Affairs in Higher Education from IUP last year. Graduate school was a career move.

“I knew I wanted to work with college students, and I wouldn’t have the longterm career leverage I desired with only a bachelor’s degree,” Conte said. “I strategically chose two graduate internships in advising knowing that I wanted to be an academic adviser. Those experiences, combined with the in-class knowledge I gained in graduate school, set a solid foundation for me to continue learning here at Penn State New Kensington.”Corinne CoulsonAs enrollment services specialist for the past three years, Coulson assists traditional-aged students with first-year and transfer admissions questions. She is the out-of-state representative for the campus and University. Coulson serves as adviser of the Lion Ambassadors, coordinates campus community service activities, and advises high school students for the Dual Enrollment program.

In addition to responsibilities as an admissions counselor, Coulson coordinated the campus’ “Poverty Summit” last fall. More than 40 community leaders and nonprofit organization members joined campus faculty and staff to learn about the issues faced by individuals and families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Combating poverty in the region is one of the key initiatives of Chancellor Snider’s vision for the campus. Fighting poverty is one way to help foster economic development and create jobs in the local community. Toward that end, he created a campus Poverty Committee tasked with collaborating with nonprofit organizations to assist with poverty-related programs. The poverty summit was the first of many programs geared to reviving communities in the region.

Coulson, a resident of Lower Burrell, earned a graduate certificate in Public Sector Human Resources from Penn State in 2015 and is halfway through Penn State’s Master of Public Administration program. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communications Media with a concentration in Journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in 2004.

“I chose the Master of Public Administration program because it really is the premier and the most recognized graduate program for those interested in working or continuing to work in the public sector, whether that be with government, non-profits, education institutions, and so on,” Coulson said. “I have been able to apply things I have learned to my work here at Penn State, especially in regards to external committees and projects I have worked on this past year with Westmoreland County.”

Danielle DeStefanoA former campus student, DeStefano joined the enrollment services staff as admissions counselor in 2007 and was promoted to assistant director in 2012. She recruits and counsels prospective students and families about the admissions and financial aid processes. She serves as the international student representative and plans admissions events.

DeStefano earned her MBA from Seton Hill University in 2009 after getting a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Penn State in 2007. Her love of learning and the functionality of the MBA degree, stoked her desire for graduate studies.

“The knowledge I gained through my MBA program is something I use every day in my job, everything from managing people to understanding business processes to evaluating effectiveness of efforts,” DeStefano said.

“Although Penn State is considered a non-profit, it still functions like a business. Evaluating our processes in admissions from that perspective helps us maintain a competitive edge and make sure that we function at the highest level possible all while working with limited resources and funding.”Karen HarlanHarlan joined the campus community in 2011 and works in the Information Technology office, as well as enrollment services. She builds and maintains the online reputation of the campus through the website and social media channels. In addition, she promotes the campus’ visual identity by designing print pieces and other media.

The Ludlow, Pennsylvania, native is a two-time Penn State graduate – earning an MBA in 2015 and Advertising and Public Relations bachelor’s degree in 2007. She was lured to the MBA program when Penn State Behrend offered the degree in Pittsburgh at the Regional Learning Alliance.

“So much of the MBA has been useful to my current position,” Harlan said. “I intentionally selected electives that were relevant, such as project management and human-computer interaction. However, even the required core courses, like leadership, ethics, marketing, and quantitative analysis are applicable to my professional life.”

Ruth HerstekWorking in the Academic Affairs office, Herstek supplies support for the director and faculty members. Her office is responsible for areas such as faculty recruitment, academic planning and program development. Student opportunities such as study abroad, internships and service-learning also fall under Academic Affairs purview.

Ten years ago, inspired by her mother, Elizabeth McClusky, who earned a teaching degree at the age of 50, Herstek decided to enroll as an adult learner. By juggling office duties, classes and family responsibilities, she earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts in 2008. After securing a two-year degree, Herstek continued her academic pursuits in Organizational Leadership, a bachelor’s degree program that is designed for veterans and adults with family and career obligations. Students can earn a minimum of six credits (two 3-credit courses) per semester by attending classes one night a week in an accelerated fashion. The major can be completed at the New Kensington campus or at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry. Veterans and adult learners, who comprise approximately 31 percent of the Penn State New Kensington student population, have their own space on the campus at the Adult Learner Resource Center and Lounge.

The Organizational Leadership degree helped Herstek improve her communication and writing skills. She learned to develop and implement new programs that served her well in her position of working with faculty.

“While taking classes toward my bachelor degree, I had the opportunity to meet and assist many adult students,” Herstek said. “Those experiences and my current course work have led me to become very interested in the beauty of transformational learning that occurs in adult education.”Herstek will add to her Penn State degree haul in December when she earns a Master of Education in Adult Education.

“Pursing my master's degree was both a personal and professional goal,” Herstek said. “I have been able to stretch the boundaries of my current position and branch out to new areas. For example, I was able to complete training to become a New Student Orientation adviser, which has helped me serve students better when they come to our office for assistance.”Wesley SheetsSheets was named the campus' first public safety manager in 2013. A former director of judicial affairs at High Point University, Sheets supervises the campus’ security staff and is responsible for Clery Act compliance, investigations of criminal and noncriminal complaints, and enforcing laws, regulations and policies. Sheets also serves as the emergency response coordinator for the campus. Students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and friends can receive alerts on their mobile devices through the PSUTXT. In the event of snow, severe storms or other emergencies, subscribers will receive a text message when incidents occur that may impact the campus community. Subscription to PSUTXT is free. To subscribe, visit

The Moon Township resident joined the campus staff after serving two years as a detective and police officer at Robert Morris University. Prior to Robert Morris, Sheets was a police officer, school resource officer and DARE instructor for the Borough of California.

Sheets earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from California University of Pennsylvania before graduating from the Allegheny County Police Training Academy. He holds a master’s degree in Legal Studies from California University of Pennsylvania.Jim ShieldsShields, who received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Bucknell University and a master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from IUP, has been at the campus since 1999. As coordinator, he is responsible for career planning, education, and job search support services for students and alumni of Penn State. Shields works with students and employers on internships and job fairs.

“My graduate degree was necessary to understand student development in relation to forming career identity and motivation for building experience and gaining meaningful employment,” Shields said.

One of the events Shields helped develop was the annual Alle-Kiski Job Fair. More than 60 recruiters attended the Oct. 1 fair on campus and provided career options for those beginning a career or those seeking a change in vocation. Nearly 600 local job-seekers interviewed with regional companies regarding employment opportunities in a variety of fields, including health care, finance, retail and manufacturing.

Sean BridgenBridgen joined the campus community in 2007 as advising program coordinator and was promoted to advising program manager in 2012. He serves as the primary resource for all aspects of academic advising at the campus, including new student orientation, training, and assessment. He advises DUS and provisional students.

Bridgen earned his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997 and his master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from IUP in 1999. Last year, he completed his doctorate in Administrative and Leadership Studies at IUP. His pursuit of his Doctor of Education degree was founded on his passion for research in the advising field.

“I wanted to be a better writer, researcher, and thinker so that I can contribute to the scholarship of academic advising,” Bridgen said. “My research has helped me to understand how academic advising functions as a complex social system. When viewed as a system, we can better understand how academic advising is or isn’t accomplishing its espoused goals. I have also become a better academic adviser because I have a deeper understanding of the history and philosophy of advising, as well as various theories about student development, retention, and university curricula.”

A consultant for the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), Bridgen recently presented his research, “Using Systems Theory to Understand the Identity of Academic Advising: A Case Study,” at the NACADA National Conference in Las Vegas.

Jim Shields, left, career services coordinator, and Sarah Conte, assistant coordinator of academic and career services, both hold master's degrees in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 07, 2015