Penn State graduate personifies dedication to country, alma mater

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Mandy Eagler personifies what it means to be dedicated to country and alma mater.

Her story of Penn State pride comes full circle this week, as Eagler, a veteran and World Campus student, will graduate at Penn State Shenango while also serving as the commencement speaker. It's a well-deserved honor for a soft-spoken Penn Stater whose compelling story is now being shared on the national stage. 

Realizing her college dream

Like many college freshmen, it took Eagler some time to acclimate to her new surroundings.

That will happen when you’re in Afghanistan.

Eagler always wanted to go to college. That was the plan after she finished basic training and enlisted in the National Guard. But when she reported to her unit, she was told they were deploying overseas.

Different path. Same plan. That is, thanks to Eagler’s strong desire and Penn State World Campus.

Eagler will pull off an impressive double-act Friday night during Penn State Shenango's graduation ceremony — serving as the commencement speaker and also graduating — and she'll do so wearing military honor cords. The honor cords are a new initiative sponsored in part by the Alumni Association that honors Penn State veteran students, and Eagler helped spearhead a similar effort at Shenango last year.

The military honor cord initiative was developed by Penn State World Campus and supported by leaders across the University, including the Alumni Association.

“Nittany Lions have a long and distinguished history of military service to our country,” said Paul Clifford, CEO of the Alumni Association and associate vice president for alumni relations for Penn State. “The cords honor individuals like Mandy for their commitment and sacrifice, and serve as a symbol of the ties that bind them to our University, our nation and the previous generations of Penn Staters in uniform.”

Studying in Afghanistan 

Eagler enrolled in World Campus, taking on a full load of courses in the fall of her freshman year while gearing up for her deployment and traveling overseas. She didn’t schedule classes during the spring because she wasn’t sure how her Internet connection would be where she was deployed, though she resumed her studies in the summer after seeing she was good to go.

For her own studies, Eagler majored in business with a minor in accounting, saying she also took a lot of art classes while in Afghanistan.

“It was a good way to keep your mind off of things,” Eagler said.

Since returning, Eagler has become a spokesperson for women veterans, speaking on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. She shared her story in April's edition of "Women's Health" magazine, and will appear on NBC's "Today" morning show on May 11. She's flown to New York twice for the pre-recorded segment, an experience that she called "surreal, to say the least." 

Eagler describes herself as shy; she won't mention her national appearances unless asked — even if her story is compelling and admirable — though she does understand the importance of her perspective.

Eagler also emphasized making mental health services available to veterans (and all students), saying it’s encouraging to see more awareness, with the 2016 class gift as a prime example.

“I would love to see further momentum in that regard,” she said. 

Mandy Eagler photo

Mandy Eagler, pictured far right, while having dinner at the Schreyer House with other student leaders. Pictured, from left, Brianna D'Itri (Penn State Beaver), Nicole Steffenhagen (Penn State Mont Alto), Penn State President Eric Barron, Jessica Hoag (Penn State Berks) and Mandy Eagler (World Campus and Penn State Shenango)

Image: Mandy Eagler
A good time for recognition 

In total, Eagler spent eight months overseas and another four months of training in the U.S., including at Fort Hood, Texas. She finished her deployment while having the college career she wanted, she said, adding that she’s currently completing an internship at a local accounting firm; and she’s got her fingers crossed, she said, hoping for a job offer in the near future.

From Afghanistan and back, and now to her college graduation ceremony, it's all part of her Penn State story.

“I really like how World Campus set up classes; I was able to pursue an accounting minor that I wouldn’t have been able to do elsewhere,” Eagler said. “My deployment is what brought me to World Campus, and since then, I can’t rave enough about it. The professors all want the best for you; and they understand military schedules get a little hectic, so they would really work with me.”

As an example, Eagler said professors would touch base with her if they hadn’t heard from her about an upcoming assignment.

“They knew what I was going through,” she said, saying that World Campus ensured she stayed on track during her academic career, and that her professors understood her military service brought about circumstances she couldn’t control.

Of the military honor cords, Eagler said, “It’s nice to see because so many people with World Campus are in the military and have circumstances that they need to go through to finish their college career. I think that’s something that should be recognized and rewarded, so I’m excited.”

On wearing the cords herself, she said, “I think it will have a big impact,” and then, half-laughing: “I’ll probably be an emotional wreck.”

Shenango actually used similar cords last year, with Eagler saying that veterans constitute a large part of the campus and local community. A handful of units are stationed nearby, she said, including Army, Air Force and the National Guard.

The only catch, if you want to call it that, is that the veterans look like ordinary students, she said.

Now, they have an extraordinary — and well-deserved — honor.

“No one really knows that they exist on our campus,” Eagler said. “You look at different people and don’t realize the things that they’ve gone through and the time they’ve spent serving our country. This is a good time to let them get that recognition.”

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Last Updated May 31, 2016