New Kensington commencement includes first ASPIRE graduate

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Chancellor Kevin Snider conferred degrees to 78 graduates on May 10 at the 55th spring commencement exercises at Penn State New Kensington. Suzette Schultz, senior project manager for AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and former campus student, delivered the commencement address, “The Things You Didn’t Learn in College – Skills to be Successful in the Real World.”

Mixing humor with sage advice, Schultz prepared the new Penn Staters for life after college. She stressed to the new alumni that the real challenge begins now, and there are many additional lessons to learn, life lessons, and lessons on how to have a successful career. She also encouraged them to take advantage of the many resources of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Tim Oberlin, president of the Alle-Kiski Society, inducted the new alumni into the Penn State Alumni Association. Chelsea Leake, president of the Student Government Association, spoke to the graduates, and Andrew Lee, a senior in the psychology program, sang the National Anthem and the Alma Mater.

Three undergraduate students were awarded degrees with high distinction and distinction, based on their cumulative grade-point averages. The graduate with high distinction was Jessica Nowland, who received a bachelor’s degree in information sciences and technology. Rebecca Piazza, who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and Josh Swinehart, a recipient of a bachelor of science degree in psychology, graduated with distinction.

Amy Kudranski’s degree earned her the campus’ first ASPIRE scholarship. In a twist on the traditional scholarships that are awarded to undergraduates, Kudranski received a $500 ASPIRE scholarship as a graduate. Believed to be the first of its kind at any Penn State campus, the ASPIRE (A Scholarship Program Inspiring Responsible Economics) program was established in 2012 as a support system to educate students on the importance of making healthy financial decisions.

“The focus of the program is to learn about finances, spending responsibly and borrowing wisely,” said Jennifer Marino, financial aid coordinator and ASPIRE coordinator. “Our goal is to help students to save money while attending college and to graduate with less debt.”

Students in the program have the opportunity to learn from financial professionals during on-campus workshops that are held twice during each semester and to get advice from Marino throughout the year. The workshops are designed to help students make informed decisions about their finances while they are attending school and after graduation. Topics included budgeting money while in school, the importance of saving, dangers of debt, explanation of interest rates, and loan repayment strategies.

“The sessions have certainly made me become more aware of my spending habits in general as a college student,” said Kudranski, a product of Plum High School. “Proper money management by differentiating between needs and wants is the key.”

The ASPIRE program is open to students in the campus’ nine four-year programs and five two-year programs. Enrollment begins in the fall. Undergraduates who complete the program and earn a degree from the campus are awarded $1,000 for a bachelor’s degree or $500 for an associate degree to help pay down debt after graduation. The program began when Kudranski was a junior, so she qualified for $500.

“What I learned will help me in future situations that come after graduation, such as when school loans begin and need to be paid off,” said Kudranski, a recipient of a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing. “Aspire has certainly been beneficial to me.”

Kudranski helped keep her education costs under control by working as a server at the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park. At one point, she was working three jobs.

“I attempted to save as much money as I could to pay out of pocket for tuition,” said Kudranski, whose sister graduated from the campus’ Radiological Science program in 2009. “I have taken loans out each year to cover the rest of tuition."

Between studying and working, Kudranski also managed to participate in extra-curricular activities at the campus. She was a member of the THON committee for three years and an orientation leader for two years. During her time with THON, the campus raised more than $177,000 for the Four Diamonds Fund and the fight against pediatric cancer.

Armed with a degree, the newly minted alumna is ready to join the workforce. She already has a job lined up as a financial adviser for AXA Advisors, a multi-national investment, retirement and insurance company. After a few years, she plans to head back to Penn State and work on an MBA degree. She credits her experience at the New Kensington campus for the prospects of a bright future.

“I feel I have become a well-rounded individual thanks to all the professors who have contributed to my education,” said Kudranski, who also credits her family for their support. “The challenges faced, let alone the experiences I have had at Penn State New Kensington, have been just wonderful.”

The first Penn State New Kensington class in 1960 graduated 28 men who earned associate degrees. Today, the campus offers both bachelor's and associate degrees. Since that inaugural class, more than 11,000 men and women have attended Penn State New Kensington and have earned a Penn State degree.

For a list of graduates, photos of the ceremony and text of the commencement address, visit

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Last Updated May 14, 2014