Liberal Arts

Paterno Fellow credits faculty for his positive Penn State experience

Brennan plans to attend graduate school and become a philosophy professor. Credit: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two years ago, Harrison Brennan made the life-altering decision to stop his consumption of single-use plastics.

Brennan, a senior from DuBois, Pennsylvania, quadruple majoring in philosophy, economics, international politics and Asian studies, started his sustainability journey his first year at Penn State. He took Rhetoric and Civic Life, a first-year honors seminar in the College of the Liberal Arts that encourages students to apply rhetorical perspective to the real world. One of students’ main projects is Deliberation Nation, in which they host more than 50 community discussions on important issues. When his professor asked him to choose an issue facing his community, Brennan chose plastics.

“I was shocked to see how much waste was accumulated every single day with all of the students getting takeout,” Brennan said. “I would see people get the Styrofoam containers and then sit inside the dining hall and not even think about what they were doing. It was the first time I realized, ‘Wow, there is a lot of waste generated right here in our own little community.’

“Then comparing that to how much is generated across the country and across the whole world, I thought it was kind of scary. I decided I wanted to give up all single-use plastics, and I was pretty religious about it for a year.”

Brennan explained how difficult it was to maintain the lifestyle after his first year due to circumstances created by the pandemic.

“Just from a personal perspective, it became really hard to go through life without using anything that wasn’t single use,” Brennan said. “Once COVID hit, and everything switched to plastic or Styrofoam to-go containers, I had to be a little more lenient with my own habits with consuming single-use plastics. ... I try not to beat myself up about it because circumstances have changed a lot, all the while trying to remember that if there is a way to try and cut down single-use plastics, I try to use that as much as I can.”

In addition to his sustainability efforts, Brennan has made a positive impact on campus as the co-director of Students Teaching Students, a program at Penn State that offers a unique opportunity for students to create, plan and teach official courses. This semester, the nine courses in the College of the Liberal Arts range in topic from the complex history of Dutch culture to the exploration of strategy and game theory behind the hit reality TV show, “Survivor.”

“Students Teaching Students is where I focus a lot of my energy,” Brennan said. “I plan on going to grad school and getting a Ph.D. in philosophy, so teaching something that I’m passionate about and at the college level was sort of a natural fit for me.”

“In addition to directing the program, I teach each semester, and I’m teaching a class on Dutch culture. Next semester, I am teaching a philosophy class on a series of books that I have been studying for the past year that I was really drawn to and really wanted to share because I don’t think there has been a class like this offered at the University level.”

Brennan also is a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar, which he said has provided him with amazing opportunities at Penn State.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve gained from being a part of the honors college is having to do the senior thesis,” Brennan said. “Since I want to go to grad school, I really needed a strong writing sample to use in my applications, so working with my thesis adviser and making that connection has been invaluable and will definitely help me in all of my future endeavors and my applications.

“I have never had to write something of this caliber, and I’ve never engaged in this intense, original research. I would say that has been my favorite part of Schreyer — pushing myself to write at a higher level while still being an undergrad.”

Brennan said he is also grateful for the comprehensive education he received from the College of the Liberal Arts.

“I would say that personally, since coming to Penn State, my views of the world have been completely redefined,” Brennan said. “I have learned a whole new way to think and exist in the world, and that is a direct result of my education here. That is something that I am extremely grateful for.

“I could not imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for the experiences I have had and the things I have learned from the faculty in Liberal Arts. It has really changed my life, and I really mean that in every sense of the term.”

Brennan specifically addressed the Department of Philosophy, calling it phenomenal.

“I think it is one of the best in the country, which a lot of people don’t know about,” he said. “The professors are very helpful, extremely intelligent and always willing to help you understand these very difficult concepts. I think they have done a fantastic job at preparing me to pursue professional study in the discipline, which is maybe something I couldn’t say if I went somewhere else, so I am very grateful for that.”

To learn more about Brennan and other Liberal Arts Change Makers, visit

Last Updated November 29, 2021