Inaugural Leader Launch prepares students, alumni for life after college

More than 50 Penn State students and alumni attended the inaugural Leader Launch conference Jan. 18 and 19 in Pittsburgh. A Penn State initiative to provide a professional conference for student leaders, Leader Launch was an opportunity for Penn State students from the western campuses to enhance their knowledge of transferable skills, networking and professionalism.

Current students and recent alumni from Penn State New Kensington and the western campuses of Beaver, Fayette, Greater Allegheny and Shenango were joined by business leaders in a professional conference environment. Topics included communications, goal setting, the job search process, social media, networking, business ethics, leadership and presentation skills.

The New Kensington campus was represented by 13 students and recent graduates. The students were Kailey Brink, Kelly Buggey, Jurgen Koster, Kelsy Jo Marshall, Hannah McBean, Michael Daly, Jennifer Phillips, John Ramsey, Samantha Simon and Joshua Swinehart. Alumni at the conference were Jacob Baird, Tayla Barnard and Kristen McPherson.

Brink, a senior in the administration of justice program, took advantage of the opportunity to connect with employers and improve her professional skills. She expects to earn her bachelor’s degree in December and plans to work at a juvenile drug and alcohol facility.

“The conference was well put together, with lots of interesting sessions to learn new things about professionalism in the workplace, networking, etc.,” said Brink, a member of the dean’s list and captain of the campus' THON team. “It was an amazing experience, and I hope I get a chance to attend again.”

With a 2015 graduation approaching, Daly, a junior in the psychology program, is getting ready for life after a bachelor’s degree. He wants to attend graduate school and to do research in the field of utilizing computer technology in education.

“The realities that are waiting for me on the other side of graduation are looming,” said Daly, who has been selected to the dean’s list every semester. “This conference allowed me to prepare for these challenges and maximize use of the tools that a Penn State New Kensington education has given me.”

Initially, Daly had low expectations about the benefits of attending the conference. According to the Tarentum native, he didn’t think the conference would involve anything but “cold, unfeeling, business people judging my every move and article of clothing.“ The pre-judgement was off base as those same business people turned his experience into a positive one.

“I found that the educators and business people were open and helpful, looking for ways they could help each person, not judge them,” said Daly, a graduate of Highlands High School. “Every scheduled activity was focused on bringing out the best qualities of every participant and teaching us how to professionally present these qualities.”

Educational sessions, presentations and panel discussions by Penn State alumni and business representatives provided the gist of the two-day agenda. In addition, conference attendees participated in an etiquette luncheon and networking dinner.

“I especially liked the panel of business men and women who were able to give us direct feedback on what employers are looking for while answering questions from the audience,” said Jennifer Phillips, a junior psychology major.

A resident of Vandergrift, Phillips went to the conference to improve her ability to look and act professional and to network with business professionals in the region. After receiving her bachelor’s degree next year, she will head to graduate school and work in a career where psychology and technology come together, such as human-computer interaction, which encompasses computer science, behavioral sciences and design.

“Leader Launch was a really worthwhile and valuable experience, where I gained useful new skills to use in my search for both an internship and a career,” said Phillips, a member of the Psi Chi and Alpha Sigma Lambda honor societies. “It was an excellent networking opportunity and learning experience."

For Samantha Simon, a junior business, management and marketing major, the “Careers in Action” session was the highlight of the conference. The session included presentations and panel discussions by various industry leaders.

“I loved the CIA (Careers in Action) panel, which was just raw information that I was really excited to learn about,” said Simon, a product of Lenape Tech and a fixture on the campus’ dean’s list. “It’s always reassuring to know that professionals are willing to take time out of their schedule to talk to you.”

With the support of Robert Orndorff, associate director of career services at Penn State University Park, the conference was organized by a committee of four Penn State staff members -- Lauren Blum, assistant to the director of academic affairs and Jim Shields, coordinator of career services from Penn State New Kensington; Stephanie DeMaro, regional job and internship developer for the western campuses; and Gina Jones, instructor in human development and family studies and coordinator of the Center for Experiential and Developmental Education at the Fayette campus.

Jones was the keynote speaker at the opening session, and Orndorff was the guest speaker at the networking dinner. Jones' talk, “How to Connect,” focused on how new professionals can transition from networking to connecting. The presentation was designed to help new professionals move from information sharing to purposeful connecting.

“Networking is the exchange of information, whereas establishing connections inspires trust, generates positive momentum and builds rapport,” said Jones, who holds master’s degrees in public administration and social work from the University of Pittsburgh. “Leader Launch provided students with an opportunity to connect their classroom learning to their careers, and to connect their dreams to reality."

DeMaro and Shields each presented one-hour breakout sessions. Shields’ talk focused on preparing students for the interview process. He drew special praise from Simon.

“Jim Shields did an excellent job at preparing us for future interviews,” said Simon, who last year had the highest grade-point average among sophomores in the business administration program. “He put ideas into perspective that I’ve never really considered before. He definitely made my resume look a million times better just from his hour of talking at the conference.”

The cost to the students for Leader Launch was $25 and included meals and overnight accommodations at the Doubletree by Hilton in Pittsburgh. Sponsorships defrayed the expenditures for the attendees. Four New Kensington campus advisory board members: Barb Arnold, Calvin McCutcheon, Al Weber and Steve Molitierno; supported the effort. Arnold partially funded the conference through her special endowment at the campus, the Student Leadership Development Fund. McCutcheon, president of McCutcheon Enterprises Inc., Weber, a vice president with Hefren-Tillotson Inc., and Molitierno, advisory board vice president, made individual donations.

“Penn State New Kensington has provided me with opportunities that I never believed possible,” said Daly, the recipient of the Patrick Kopnicky and Mardelle Sacco Kopnicky Trustee Scholarship at the campus. “I have been able to learn, research and lead. This campus has the power to change its students, while being flexible enough to be changed by its students.”

The conference was a part of the Penn State in Pittsburgh campaign that provides opportunities for students from the western campuses to experience the best of what the city of Pittsburgh has to offer. The program brings together students for a series of events highlighting the city’s educational, cultural, athletic and "fun" benefits. Previous events included a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game, a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum and tickets to the Broadway touring play “Wicked” at the Benedum Center.

For more about Penn State in Pittsburgh, visit

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Last Updated January 29, 2014