AmeriCorps members grow in experience and opportunities at Penn State

Audrey McSain, sustainability experience coordinator, discusses unique features of the net-zero Morningstar home and other projects, on-site at the Sustainability Experience Center on Penn State's University Park campus, with Michele Halsell, assistant director of the Sustainability Institute; Meghan Hoskins, director of operations and partnerships of the Sustainability Institute; Michael Stefan, Penn State director of state relations; Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Pat McDonnell; and Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute. Credit: Andrea MurrellAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From disaster relief, coordinating mentorship programs and building affordable housing, members of the federal program AmeriCorps have been assisting communities across the United States for over 25 years. This program gives its members living allowances, hands-on experience and career opportunities in an effort to teach civic engagement and provide the tools for a successful future. Over 75,000 Americans are employed each year to work in a select field and location of their choosing. This year, several members chose to be with Penn State to make the University and surrounding community more sustainable. 

Between August 2018 and August 2019, AmeriCorps members Ann White, Mary Lemmon, Emma Keele and Audrey McSain held unique positions within separate Penn State programs connected through the Sustainability Institute (SI). Though they had differences in expertise and ambitions, each member had a passion for sustainability.  

For one year, McSain was responsible for improving the functional development of the Sustainability Experience Center, a 9.4-acre site devoted to the education of sustainability and managed by Penn State's Sustainability Institute. As the site’s coordinator, McSain organized tours, guided research, designed policies and procedures and evaluated the needs of the site. She viewed the work opportunity as a way to expand her professional experience and indulge in her passion for higher education.

“Frankly, when I applied for AmeriCorps, I did not know much about it,” said McSain. “For me, it was all about career. I knew working with the Sustainability Institute would allow me to gain hands-on experience, broaden my network, and set me apart from other applicants when applying for jobs.” 

Her one year of service ended this August, leading to a transition into a new position as the sustainability program manager at Lehigh University. McSain credits her time with AmeriCorps and Penn State as a key reason for finding and acquiring the position.

“During my time at Penn State, I have gained much experience and knowledge that I will carry with me for the rest of my career,” said McSain. “My experience with AmeriCorps has been challenging at times, but absolutely worth it.” 

White, Keele and Lemmon were all affiliated with the Student Farm at Penn State, a one-acre farm dedicated to providing transformative learning opportunities in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Lemmon worked for the Sustainable Foods Systems Program, a program of the Sustainability Institute that encapsulates the Student Farm, the Student Farm Club, the future food systems minor, and course-client collaborations. In her work, Lemmon arranged events with community partners, organized volunteer days and assisted classes in their projects. Her most notable achievement was finalizing the Community Harvest Project, an initiative created to harvest surplus produce from local farms and donate it to food pantries throughout Centre County. 

“My year of service has helped me by giving me community connections and people that I can work with in the future,” said Lemmon. “Overall, my experience with this AmeriCorps program has been a challenging year of exciting new opportunities for helping the community.” 

In her service, Keele worked with several student groups, including the Lion’s Pantry, a food pantry at Penn State designed to help address student hunger. With the pantry, Keele created logs designed to collect information on food distribution, food donation and volunteer hours. According to Keele, the logs she created were a crucial part in the pantry’s mission to communicate that students in Pennsylvania face food insecurity. The job also gave her practical experience collecting data, which she hopes will serve her well in her career path. 

In the future, Keele would like to work within land management and habitat restoration and plans on pursuing a master's degree in ecology in the next year. She will continue her AmeriCorps service for another year with ClearWater Conservancy, a Pennsylvania non-profit dedicated to conserving and restoring the state’s natural resources.  

“Even though my first term of service did not directly align with my future career goals of habitat restoration, I still believe it has been an integral part of my professional and personal development,” said Keele. “I believe this is the true beauty and value to participating in AmeriCorps; no matter what your term of service is, you are bound to have diverse experiences, broaden your world view and feel an impact.”  

White also worked with the Lion’s Pantry. She oversaw the facility itself, fielded email accounts for the organization and hosted open hours, the time in which students can get food.  In her service, White witnessed the negative health effects students face if they do not have adequate nutrition, and wanted to take action.

“In terms of relating to health, my service taught me that there are various aspects that could affect one’s overall health, including food insecurity,” said White. "Students who are not obtaining adequate and nutritious meals could face decreased health, which could influence performance in school, work or other areas. The Lion’s Pantry can aid in preventing these types of issues.” 

White was with the pantry for three semesters before she graduated this past May and plans on attending medical school. Like many of the other AmeriCorps members working with Penn State, White said she felt as though she benefited greatly from the program.

“My experience as an AmeriCorps member was extremely fulfilling and allowed me to have a direct impact on the community that I lived in for the past four years,” said White. “I was able to work on and address social issues affecting fellow Penn State students and contribute to a student club that was a significant part of my Penn State career.”


Last Updated September 11, 2019