Penn State Fayette hosts forum for regional high school administrators

A forum of high school administrators and Penn State Fayette staff are seated around a large table in the Student Center.

Penn State Fayette hosted a forum to extend support to regional high school administrators.

Credit: Penn State

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus hosted “Partners in Education” on Aug. 1, a forum to engage high school administrators from nine school districts in a discussion about Penn State programs and resources available to regional high school students.

Superintendents, counselors, curriculum coordinators, principals and other professionals from Albert Galatin, Brownsville, Carmichaels, Charleroi, Connellsville, Geibel Catholic, Laurel Highlands, Turkeyfoot and Uniontown school districts were in attendance.

Charles Patrick, Penn State Fayette chancellor and chief academic officer, welcomed the participants.

“Today, we want to have a conversation about how Penn State Fayette might partner with high schools in our region,” he said. “Tax dollars, student tuition, and our generous community have provided our state-of-the-art facilities and programs. Now, we want to know: How can Penn State become a resource hub for your high school?”

The forum commenced with presentations about new and developing programs at Penn State Fayette.

Pathway to Success: Summer Start

Mary Budinsky, learning center coordinator, discussed the benefits of the Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program. Now in its fifth year of operation across the Penn State system, PaSSS invites eligible incoming freshmen to complete six credits during the summer before their first semester.

Participants receive a scholarship of up to $1,500, a book stipend of $400, guaranteed on-campus employment and peer mentorship throughout the academic year. A student who successfully completes his or her first year may enroll in 12 additional credits during the following summer with a scholarship of up to $3,000. Returning PaSSS students serve as student-mentors to the incoming class.

Bethany Coldren, a PaSSS student and 2018 graduate of Penn State Fayette, was able to complete a bachelor of science degree in human development and family studies in just three years.

Approximately 50% of Penn State Fayette’s students are the first in their families to attend college, and for these students the transition from high school to a university setting can be especially challenging. PaSSS, an initiative by Penn State President Eric Barron, is designed to equip students with a support system, resource literacy and a head start on degree completion.

“PaSSS students stand out in our campus community — they are the ones that stop by and say hello to staff members and check in about their experience. They become the experts on campus,” said Budinsky.

Early College Program

Tricia Homonai, an academic adviser at Penn State Fayette, introduced the Early College Program, which offers high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to complete college credits at a 50% tuition adjustment and earn scholarships.

The pilot program will afford high school students the opportunity to experience college courses taught by world-renowned Penn State faculty; to acclimate to the university environment; and to interact with current college students — all while earning credits toward a degree at Penn State.

The Early College Scholarship, worth $2,800 for juniors and $1,900 for seniors, will be applied retroactively upon the student’s full-time enrollment as a first-year college student at Penn State Fayette.

High school juniors may complete 10 credits over four semesters for a total out-of-pocket cost of $78. High school seniors may complete seven credits over two semesters for a total out-of-pocket cost of $20.

“We visited all of the high schools in Fayette County, and we heard that affordability is the deal-breaker for early college enrollment,” said Dean Julian, director of enrollment management. “The Early College Program is designed to address the needs of our local high school students, so that they have an affordable option to jump-start their education.”

Parents and students interested in the Early College Program may attend an information session at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 for more information. Call the Admissions Office at 724-430-4130 to learn more and to register.

Student-Athletes Graduate and Excel

Lou Zadecky, athletic director, and Budinsky shared the success of the Student-Athletes Graduate and Excel (SAGE) program. Student-athletes at Penn State Fayette have demonstrated significant improvement in academic achievement since the program’s establishment in 2015, which mandates two hours of study time in the Student Success Center each week for students struggling with academic performance.

SAGE also prioritizes the social and emotional well-being of student-athletes. Initiatives include assigning faculty and staff contact points for each team, bolstering athlete publicity efforts online and in the community, hosting celebrations, maintaining safe zones for nonjudgmental support, and tasking team captains with encouraging peers.

“We have student-athletes who rely on the program for consistent academic success,” said Zadecky. “SAGE not only strengthens our athletic programs but ensures that our student-athletes are marketable post-graduation.”

Student-athlete academic performance was the highest recorded across all Fayette athletic programs in 2018, and eligibility has risen to 94%.

Partnership opportunities with regional high schools

The conversation continued as the group discussed the potential for Penn State Fayette to serve as a venue for Advanced Placement testing, to facilitate professional development workshops and training, and to offer high school students access to the campus' new 3D printing and simulation labs, among other opportunities.

Each school district welcomed the discussion and expressed enthusiasm in partnering with Penn State Fayette.

“We would find value in partnering with Penn State Fayette to give Laurel Highlands gifted students an experience above and beyond what they’re getting in the public school classroom, such as touring a university lab,” said John Diamond, principal of Laurel Highlands High School.

“Penn State Fayette could offer in-service sessions for our specialty teachers — in arts, physical education and library science — led by Penn State faculty that specialize in those areas,” said Beth Hutson, assistant to the superintendent at Brownsville Area High School.

“We could partner to coordinate an event that allows Fayette County teachers to tour campus and hear from faculty, so they know what resources are available to them while they’re preparing for classes,” said Mindy Harris, curriculum developer at Uniontown Area High School.

“We are excited about our teachers and students being able to utilize what the Penn State Fayette Campus has to offer,” said Chris Pegg, superintendent of Albert Gallatin High School. “We’ve already had a biology class visit the Simlab for an experience they will not soon forget. I’m sure we will continue this partnership in the future, and we hope that more teachers will take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.”