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Award and Application Information

The Outstanding Adult Student Award recognizes an exceptional adult learner or student veteran at University Park who has overcome obstacles while furthering his or her education. Nominees should balance multiple roles, serve as a role model for other students and achieve academically.

Nominate an Outstanding Adult Student

Complete the Nomination Packet below and submit prior to 5:00 p.m. on March 12. Packets can be emailed directly to Leslie Laing or dropped off or mailed to the address provided inside.
Complete the Nomination Packet Now

Current & Past Award Winners

2024 Award Winners Tyler Colon and Brittany Keenan

Tyler Colon is pursuing a degree in Architecture after serving as a former U.S. Army Military Working Dog Handler for 5 years. An active member of the American Institute of Architectural Students, Tyler has used his leadership skills and positive attitude to contribute to a number of large-scale projects. He volunteers his time as a speaker to tell his story and share his experience and has consistently shown a positive attitude while fostering community and collaboration amongst his peers.

Brittany Keenan is pursuing an integrated undergraduate and graduate program in Nutritional Sciences after medically retiring from the U.S. Navy after serving for ten years. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant, Brittany uses her leadership skills to advocate for others as president for the Penn State Veterans Organization, as a Student Veterans of America Fellow, a member of the vice president’s Student Leadership Roundtable, and the Anti-Hunger Club. Brittany works on campus supporting the Veteran Bridge Program helping other veterans transition to college life. She also does research in the Cognitive Neuroscience Eating & Obesity Lab and takes the initiative to mitigate barriers for herself and others. 

Sukainah Mohammed Aldarweesh, a mother of six children, majoring in Media Studies, has a 3.73 gpa and joins us from Saudi Arabia, who buckled down in order to improve her TOEFL score to 100 and secure a scholarship to study in the United States. Sukainah has served as a news reporting candidate for the Daily Collegian, writing articles to raise awareness about topics pertaining to Muslim students, Ramadan and environmental issues. She works as a News Literacy Ambassador, a TA for Telecommunications Ethics Course providing research assistance for the children, media and conflict zone lab and has also lent her talents to help translate an Arabic book to English and is a Schreyer’s Honor student. She champions the intersections of good journalism and social responsibility.

David Pearce, a senior majoring Wildlife and Fisheries Science with a 3.49 gpa, who began his Penn State journey in 2019 at our Harrisburg campus and worked as a foreman at a dealership before coming to University Park in 2020 during the pandemic. David serves the Penn State community as a treasurer for the Wildlife Society, a member of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation, a student rep for Forest Resources & Ecosystems Science Management Alumni and won an award in 2022 for his leadership. David has worked in three research labs, extracting DNA from whitetail deer, giraffe tissue samples and elephant populations in Tanzania, has contributed to three publications, and  organizes field trips for members to view Elk herds. David desires to be a research ecologist and will begin grad school in the fall.

Gabrielle Swavely, an Agricultural Science major with a 3.47 gpa, took a gap year in 2017 and became the Centre County Grange Encampment Fair Queen. This role ignited her passion to resume her studies at Penn State in 2020. Gabrielle works everyday at 4 am on a dairy farm tending cows before classes, she has added a minor in agronomy and leadership development, stewardship and conservation. She enjoys serving as a coach for Nittany Dreamers, local baton twirling and silks corps. Gabrielle also serves on the Centre County Dairy Promotion Committee coordinating fundraising, mentoring the aspiring the next generation of dairy princesses. She has been on the Dean’s list and received three scholarships along with the Horizon Farm Credit for job shadowing and managed to complete her degree requirements in three years in addition to filling responsibilities as Pennsylvania Diary Princess and a recognizable leader in the community.

Katrina Bynum, biobehavioral health and microbiology, began her studies in 2012. In 2018, she reapplied to Penn State Abington campus to complete her degree. In 2019 she transferred to University Park. During her time at Penn State, Bynum has served as a Lion Ambassador, a peer educator with Health Promotion and Wellness, president of Adult Learners at Penn State student organization, and vice president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. She plays on the Quidditch team and serves as a learning and research assistant for the department of biochemistry and molecular biology.

During the pandemic, Bynum took classes to prepare herself and now volunteers as an EMT with Centre Life Link Emergency Medical Services serving Centre County. According to her nomination packet Bynum “demonstrates remarkable leadership qualities, commitment, and dedication to the Penn State Community. Her critical roles as a health educator, tutor, and EMS worker impact us all for the better. She has an extraordinary work ethic as she hurdles everyday challenges and advocates for others. Katrina exemplifies what it means to live your learning.”

Jodi Thompson, elementary and early childhood education, began her Penn State journey in 1993. In 2019, she returned to resume her studies in the College of Education. Thompson is a first-generation student and always wanted to become a teacher. She currently serves as a teacher in Mifflin County and is a mom attending classes with her 20-year-old-daughter, both at University Park. During the pandemic, Thompson often provided home-cooked meals and rides to other students when needed. She even brought a coffee maker to the classroom to ease the burden for her cohort during their 3-hour class. 

According to her nomination packet, Thompson “collaborates and inspires her classmates and provides a critical lens encouraging equity and access to the sciences to reduce the systemic inequities. Jodi is a learner, classmate, wife, and mother whose leadership is admired and respected.”

Chioma Okoroafor, with majors in Biology and Psychology, was born in Arkansas enlisted in the United States Marine Corps directly after high school. She served 5 years as a Ground Electronics Transmission System Maintainer, installing, diagnosing, and performing field-level maintenance on a variety of communications equipment. In 2017, she began her studies online while stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and upon the completion of her military commitment moved to Pennsylvania to pursue her bachelor's degree in January 2020.

Chioma works on campus as a peer counselor doing outreach in the Office of Veteran Programs making recommendations and implementing solutions for prospective students. She volunteers at the Arboretum planting tubers for the Pollinator Garden and has also completed a rigorous 80-hour training course in order to become a volunteer at Centre Safe. Chioma spends 16 hours a week helping to empower survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as a hotline worker. Chioma enjoys exploring environmental and climate sciences and would ultimately like to attend medical school and specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. Chioma consistently seeks out excellence, faces problems head on, and has a winning attitude about life. She is passionate about achieving her goals, inspiring and impacting others.

Divine Lipscomb, majoring in Rehabilitation & Human Services, is a husband and father. He is an individual in long-term recovery and formerly incarcerated, who has overcome financial hardships, family disruption, and homelessness. Divine works on campus as a special projects coordinator for the Restorative Justice Initiative in the College of Ed, creating dialogues around the intersection of race, institutional barriers, and trauma before and after incarceration. He is the founder of a nonprofit that uses mentorship and support groups to aid reentry efforts. He has also received the Rock Ethics Stand Up Award.

Prince Koomson, senior graduating with a degree in mathematics, 3.43 GPA, was born in Ghana, West Africa. He migrated to the United States in 2012 with two siblings, he enlisted in the Navy and served 5 years. While in Hawaii, Prince was selected to participate in the Seaman-to-Admiral 21 program. During this time he resumed studies at the University through ROTC. Despite the loss of his father following a prolonged illness, Prince found himself supporting his siblings and serving as a role model to fellow midshipmen by arranging study sessions and tutoring others while striving to stay on the Dean’s list. He maintains laser-like focus, a positive mental attitude, and is an exemplary student who was selected 1 out of 50 to attend flight school.

Kimisse King, Rehabilitation and Human Service major - Kimisse is a single mother of four boys who began her educational pursuit at South Hills Business School where she received an associate degree in Administrative Legal Studies in 2001. Kimisse worked at Burger King for five years struggling to raise a family on minimum wage. Kimisse is a survivor of domestic violence who seeks to empower others to live a life free from abuse. In 2011, Kimisse enrolled at Penn State part-time pursuing a bachelor’s degree when financial instability struck and she was forced to discontinue studies in 2014. Kimisse has resumed her studies and wants to become a licensed professional counselor. Kimisse works at the Women’s Resource Center, now  Centre Safe, as a legal advocate and counselor serving victims of dating and domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.  In addition to work and school, Kimisse juggles her roles and responsibilities to include membership in a local community group, Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and the Pennsylvania Prison Society that serves as an advocacy group supporting prisoners and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. She also attends Campus and Community in Unity (CCU) meetings to lend her voice to create change in our local community. Kimisse is a dedicated counselor and advocate who juggles motherhood as a single parent, her passion and dedication continues to uplift trauma survivors, underserved and oppressed populations along with those in her sphere of influence and she makes the community a better place for all.

Donna Butler, Law and Society major, - was named an Outstanding Adult Student for her unprecedented engagement benefiting those studying at a distance. Donna left a series of unfulfilling jobs and was determined to find her calling in life. Donna earned an Associate’s degree in 2014 and is back pursuing a bachelor's degree in Law and Society through World Campus. She has been consistently on the Dean’s list and enjoys serving as an intern to the director of Interdisciplinary Degrees and as a magistrate to Penn State’s International Legal Honor Society. Donna has created a few very unique experiences for her World Campus peers. One example, a zoom video event, exploring the three branches of government inCommonwealthealth of Pennsylvania with a judge, a congressional representative, and deputy general counsel to provide insight regarding their paths to success and offer advice to students pursuing careers in state government. In addition to creating various webinars to learn about the Penn State Law Admissions process, J.D. program, she is arranging free online LSAT preparation workshops for honor society members and a tools for current members and recruitment of new online students interested in joining the organization.  Being an adult learner at a distance, poses challenges to work/life balance, time commitments and requires higher self-accountability. Donna is an outstanding role model with demonstrated success with numerous roles and career-related activities. Her initiative, resourcefulness and exemplary engagement efforts have broken barriers and raised the bar for online students.

Timothy Bowen, a first generation student who has served nearly 8 years between the US Army & National Guard is a senior majoring in Material Science & Engineering.  Tim recalls initially being overwhelmed by all of the young, bright minds at Penn State. He felt isolated and insecure since taking calculus nearly ten years before resuming his college education. Proving himself and making the Dean’s list six times and securing a research opportunity with the Advanced Coating Lab at ARL has been life changing. These milestones have infused Tim with a rewed focused, passion and a vision for his future working in the field of semi-conductors and 2-D materials. Tim recently applied and was accepted to Penn State’s one-year master’s program in Material Science and Engineering.

Tim realizes that facing the front lines of Iraq, experiencing fatigue and stress, dealing with anxiety about being an adult learner and switching majors has become his pathway for success.  Tim continues to make great strides. His dedication, competence, integrity and intense drive helps him to excel. He has been a member of the ODS student veteran org, math club, Adult Learners at Penn State and as a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World he has performed professionally at the Applied Research Lab handling highly classified materials. Furthermore, when Tim sees a mistake, he is not afraid to address it. He is a vital contributor with an excellent work ethic who strives to reinforce a culture of accountability among other students in the department.  

Danielle Joliet, wife and mother of two, was a high school drop out, obtained her GED and joined the Untied States Army. She transitioned to the Army Reserves when she became pregnant and became a police officer. In 2008, Danielle was injured in Baghdad, and spent 5 months at Walter Reed Hospital. She previously attended two community colleges and after support, encouragement and counseling, Danielle applied to Penn State in 2015. She joined the Collegiate Recovery Program, shared her story, took on a leadership role and in return, found new motivation and a passion for Rehabilitation and Human Services. She has been on the Dean's list for several semesters and currently has a 4.0 gpa. She served as a mentor in the Veteran's office helping others transition to college life and often hosts morning meet ups for female veterans on campus. In the local community, she finds time to volunteer and fundraise for Easter Seals. Danielle has been selected as this year's student marshal at the graduation ceremonies for the College of Education. Danielle has received her acceptance letter and intends to continue on to graduate school. Danielle has overcome numerous obstacles, devised creative solutions and adds tremendously to what makes Penn State great. Danielle's character, passion, commitment and hard work personifies what it means to be resilient.

Bryan Smith, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps majoring in Criminology, started his educational journey more than a decade ago. He deployed to Iraq in 2007, he is a married Dad of two, a 3 and 5 year old. He has enjoyed both residential instruction at UP as well as online via World Campus. He has been on the Dean's list and is a member Naval ROTC unit serving as an advisor, trainer and mentor to midshipmen. Bryan has volunteered with Toys for Tots, Colonel Russell's Day of Caring, the Special Olympics and our local Food Bank to name just a few. He is also a recipient of the Brandon McCombie Community Service Memorial Award for his contributions to the community. Bryan admits it tough finding time to balance these activities, homework, military service and his family life but he believes in modeling self-less service. He intends to make a professional career in the Marine Corps and seeks a PhD in the future. His nominators say: his dedication to academic excellence is evident to those who aspire to become future officers. His lessons in military leadership, personnel management, family readiness, prepare countless men and women for the future rigors --he leads by example. Furthermore, Bryan has proven himself to be a very influential member of the classroom with his intellect, insights and work ethic and he strikes the perfect balance of raising perspectives for consideration without trampling feelings or criticizing the views of others in the classroom. He is a devoted father, husband, community member and an extraordinary adult student.

Andrew Bradshaw, a senior majoring in Political Science and History overcame familial instability living with extended family members due to parental substance abuse. Following high school graduation he enrolled in community college but a lack of financial support which led to dropping out. In 2009, he returned to Penn State Harrisburg but this proved challenging too. After holding random jobs and recovering from spending a few days in jail for driving with a revoked license Andrew got a bother chance. Four years later, Andrew renewed his commitment to seeking an education and in the fall of 2013, at age 24, he re-enrolled at Penn State University Park. Andrew desperately wanted to catch up and successfully secured 21 credits via the CLEP exams. He was invested in campus life and joined the Student Philanthropy Council, he also writes for The Collegian and serves on the University Park Allocations Committee. He maintains a 3.61 gpa and has been on the Dean's list and hopes to be published in an undergraduate academic journal later this year. Andrew has aspirations to secure a career in law and to educate and redirect others. Andrew is capable, ambitious, and industrious, despite multiple obstacles and challenges Andrew holds an optimistic outlook, and lends his voice to cultivating the spirit of philanthropy and empowering other undergraduate students. He makes a difference at Penn State.

Stephanie Vellucci, a senior in Health Policy & Administration is a veteran of the United States Army who was stationed in Korea and Italy. She is a married mom of two sons age 6 and 4 and enjoys volunteering with Relay for Life and working 20-40 hours on campus as a Barista for Starbucks. Stephanie co-founded Starbucks Gives Back student org that raises funds for the PA Wounded Warrior Project. She juggles roles of wife, mother, student, and employee and says that her military experiences serving as an Orthopedic Operating Room Technician fueled her passion for education. Stephanie plans to graduate in May and is seeking entry to graduate school. Stephanie has hopes of becoming a Healthcare Administrator at a Military Medical Center. Stephanie was also awarded the Army Achievement Medal while serving, and was named the Student Employee of the Semester in 2013. With the amazing support of her family, she has been able to overcome financial obstacles in addition to life's unexpected challenges while raising two little ones and supporting a husband in the Reserves as she pursues an education. Her nominators say that Stephanie is a leader, a good critical thinker and someone who maintains an enthusiastic attitude. She has the patience and emotional intelligence to connect with less motivated students and makes a difference. She truly has a plan with a legacy- happiness, hard work, humanity, parenthood and dedication...she makes us Penn State Proud.

Neil Andrew Meyer, a son of a rural preacher, was home schooled and struggled with a learning disability to obtain his GED. He left home at 18 years of age and moved from Kansas to Pennsylvania to change his life. An avid volunteer with Relay for Life, Neil balances working full-time at Wal-Mart and a 3.62 gpa as a junior majoring in Psychology- neuroscience option. He is a "standout" student in the lab, has presented at a Summer Research Symposium, serves as a research assistant and has already taken his GRE exams for graduate school. Neil has been selected as a McNair Scholar and Bunton-Waller Scholar. His nominators say, Neil has a powerful mind, is extremely motivated, serves at extraordinary levels and is a passionate role model, Neil's contributions enrich all of us at Penn State. Neil hopes to pursue doctoral training in clinical psychology.

Alison Mary Franklin, a daughter, wife, mother of two girls age 5 and 3, role model, activist, and an asset to our community. Alison has battled with bulimia and anorexia for nearly 12 years and has become a stronger, more resilient and a more confident person. She rebuilt her life, returned to Penn State, engages in a church and community activities and is resolved to keep moving forward. Alison volunteers at PAWS animal shelter, a local Free cycle Group, and serves as a member of the local American Heart Association. Alison also participates in a program designed to enhance the leadership of high school students in addition to volunteering at AAUW supporting a science program for middle school girls as well as the Annual AAUW Book Sale held at the Ag Arena. On campus, Alison has also served as a note taker for the Office of Disability Services. Alison is frequently on the Dean's list and now in the top 1% of all students in the College of Ag Science and a member of Gamma Sigma Delta Ag Honor Society and Alpha Sigma Lambda, our Adult Learner Honor Society. Alison crafted an innovative approach to her own education and her hybrid curriculum now serves as the template for future students who seek this sort of cross-training. Alison hopes to continue on to grad school to study the fate and transport of contaminants in soil and water systems and exhibits a calling to make a lasting difference in the world through a career in environmental toxicology.

Kristen Ramsey is a person with drive, passion and superior time management skills. She is a wife, mother of five children all under the age of 12, who works evenings and weekends as a gymnastics coach, an elementary school volunteer and caregiver to a terminally ill parent. Kristen began her studies over 15 years ago commutes four hours daily from Mechanicsburg to University Park to attend classes. In addition to her educational pursuits, Kristen has accomplished a great deal, coaches cheerleading, completed a co-op for teambuilding, and holds certification for First Aid and CPR as well as massage therapy. Homework is sandwiched between loads of laundry, doing dishes and putting kids to bed. Not only does she maintain a full load of classes, she excels with distinction as evidenced by her appearance on the Dean's list for the past three semesters. Kristen is keenly aware that no one does it alone and appreciates the amazing sacrifices of those around her enabling her success. Her personal mantra is "it will be worth it in the end."

Eric Gayle is a husband and father of 3 who has demonstrated superior courage serving in the United States Navy and perseverance through personal struggles in order to live out his educational dream. He labored for an excavating business until he was laid off, completed coursework at York and Harrisburg campuses before moving his family to University Park in order to complete his degree program. Eric has been a valuable asset to his peers by assisting them with the rigors faced by aspiring Chemical Engineers and volunteers monthly as a mentor for a "Kid Writing Program" at his daughter's school. His nominators say "Eric embodies the character, excellence, ownership, tenacity and entrepreneurship framed in the stories of Theodore Roosevelt, Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King Jr." Eric serves as a motivator, inspirer and technical helper to several of his classmates and is well respected by his peers and his professors.

Centrice Martin is a single-mother of a 6 year old and a resource to her peers. She has served as a student presenter for the First Year, Testing, Counseling and Advising Program (FTCAP) at University Park, takes great pride in assisting with Penn State's "Spend a Summer Day" program and works part-time on campus. In the local community, she makes time to coach cheerleading for Bellefonte Elementary School and T-ball at the YMCA. She also serves as publicity chair for the National Agri-Marketing Association Club. Her nominators have said, "she has developed innovative ways to stay focused on her priorities- family, work and school...her time management skills are exceptional and her resilience to persevere has made her a stronger, smarter woman."

Yumi Lee is has been on the Dean's list for several semesters. She is a two-time recipient of the Academic Achievement Scholarship Award and a member of the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society. In addition to maintaining academic excellence, Yumi is a single-mother of 5 energetic children, works part-time at the Bennett Center. She is an advocate for supportive services for women and children, she speaks three languages and is a volunteer translator for Global Connections. Her supporters say that in every area of her multi-faceted life she has excelled and overcome...she is an inspiration and role model to all of us young and old.

Karen Querns is a senior majoring in Communication Arts and Sciences. She has been recognized for exemplary achievement and spirited mentorship serving as a language model for other students. Karen is a full-time student, wife and mother of three. In her spare time, she volunteers through the Delta Program to teach sign language to deaf and hearing-impaired students in the State College Area School District. Karen has been recognized by the Eli Lily Foundation's Focus on Your Possibilities Scholarship program. She is also a member of Golden Key International Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi and Lambda Pi Eta.

Dana Springer is a senior majoring in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management, and has been on the Dean's list for the past three consecutive semesters. In addition to maintaining academic excellence, Dana is a single-mother of an energetic six-year old, works full-time and commutes from Philipsburg. Dana is also a member of Kappa Omicron Nu honor society, serves as a teaching assistant, volunteers at the YMCA and is a diligent worker at the learning lab at Cafe' Laura.


210 Boucke Building
University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-863-7378

Email: contact the director