Campus Life

Smeal builds community among graduate students with inaugural networking event

More than 200 Smeal professional graduate students attend PGP LION Weekend

Penn State Smeal MBA student Skylar Jones, far left, leads a group of Smeal graduate students Sept. 6 in a high-ropes course expedition as part of PGP LION Weekend. Credit: Tasha BurmanAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Office of Professional Graduate Programs (PGP) from the Penn State Smeal College of Business recently hosted its first Leadership Immersion and On-Campus Networking (LION) Weekend last month.

Brian Cameron, associate dean for Professional Graduate Programs, said he hoped this event would be a valuable opportunity to provide networking and experiential learning components to PGP students from both resident and online programs.

Smeal’s professional graduate programs have taken off in the last several years and now comprise four one-year residential master’s programs, 11 online graduate certificate programs, seven online master’s programs, and three different MBA options. 

“This was an experiment to see what the response would be like,” Cameron said. “We were overwhelmed by the response. There were more than 200 people attending from eight different states with people traveling from as far as Florida and Tennessee.”

Students across the PGP portfolio had an opportunity to be on campus and strengthen connections with others throughout the weekend by participating in a variety of activities. The weekend combined opportunities to socialize, network, and develop leadership skills reflective of Penn State’s values and the college’s “roll up your sleeves” work ethic. In the future, Cameron hopes to find ways to expand the event.

“This is an important aspect that helps to set our program apart from the competition,” Cameron said. “Since this was a success, we are now exploring adding optional educational residency components to the LION weekend that are aligned with our online master's programs.”

LION Weekend kicked off Thursday, Sept. 5, with a casual evening social event in downtown State College. On Friday, an optional unique leadership immersion was offered to all students in Smeal’s graduate programs. The excursion entailed spending the day at Stone Valley Recreation Area tackling a high-ropes course, which is specifically designed for teams to bond and develop leadership skills.

Skyler Jones, a resident MBA student, found the high-ropes course to be the highlight of his weekend. 

“The ropes course was a blast,” Jones said. “I was hesitant to sign up for it, and when school began, I didn't think that I would have time for it; however, this was just what I needed.

“The experience was stress-relieving, fun, and gave me an opportunity to get to know others in a different light," added Jones. "I enjoyed strategizing with my new friends 50 feet in the air.” 

The following day, students joined a family-friendly tailgate hosted by Chuck Whiteman, the John and Becky Surma Dean of the Smeal College of Business, before the Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Buffalo Bulls football game at Beaver Stadium. The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a hike of Mount Nittany — a Centre County staple.

Kelly Mills, a Penn State Online MBA (OMBA) student, expressed a sense of pride being part of PGP LION Weekend.

“I’m proud to be a Penn State student, I’m proud to be a Smeal student, and I’m proud to be an OMBA student,” Mills said. “I really didn’t want this weekend to end.”

Being able to share the whole weekend with her classmates allowed Mills to make new friends in just a matter of days.

“The caliber of people here is beyond comparison,” Mills said. “This made me feel just that much more a part of the program, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.”

Stacey Dorang Peeler, OMBA managing director, is also looking forward to seeing the event grow and become an annual tradition at Smeal.

“Seeing students from all of the professional graduate programs at Smeal come together was a wonderful feeling, and the event exemplified our Penn State value of community,” Dorang Peeler said. “We know our network is one of our greatest assets, and it’s fantastic to see it in action.”

Online Smeal student Davendra Brijlall echoed Dorang Peeler's sentiment.

"As an Online MBA student, having events like the PGP LION Weekend truly helped establish a community feel within the Penn State family,” Brijlall said. “Being able to connect with students from other programs at Smeal helped me create a broader network and build relationships, which can be leveraged both inside and outside the classroom.”

For more information about Smeal’s professional graduate programs, visit

Last Updated October 14, 2019