College of Education graduate student displays passion for counseling, cooking

Jim Carlson
April 14, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a pinch of practicum here and a dash of career counseling classes there — blended with business acumen for turning profits on pierogies — it would seem that College of Education graduate student Ashley Hamilton has found a recipe for the good life.

Or at the very least an exceedingly busy one. That counseling and cooking combination — along with babysitting two children on the autism spectrum — makes for long, active days that reward the first-year counselor education major so much more than just monetarily.

Hamilton, a Bald Eagle Area High School graduate who in 2013 earned a Penn State undergraduate degree in human development and family studies with a minor in psychology, has dual research interests. Her yet-to-be determined master’s project might focus on integrating career awareness into an elementary school’s curriculum. Her ongoing business project — running Rosie’s Pierogies — calls for researching necessary production equipment, procuring supplies and finding new flavors to inject into the ethnic treat that is a big hit at local fairs as well as product sold in area fundraisers.

Hamilton is winding down year one of grad school; year three of Rosie’s Pierogies is about to gear up on the summer fair circuit after a busy Easter Lenten season during which she sold 3,600 pierogies in two hours on the last Friday of Lent at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College.

“Before I came to grad school I was doing the pierogies,’’ Hamilton said. “It was taking off and I still wanted to be in the school setting and working with kids. I found myself here, I applied and I got in. I’m currently doing my practicum at Bellefonte Elementary and I love it.

“Every day I just connect with a kid or I have a couple of kids I just talk to on my own and they’re kind of like my students that I’m working with, and I leave with a hop in my step. So I know I’m doing what I should be doing. It’s difficult to do both of them but I’m kind of an all-or-nothing girl, which is good and bad sometimes.

“I don’t want to give up on either of them. I enjoy them so much and I feel like I can be successful in both of them. So, here I am. I juggle; I juggle very well.’’

Hamilton developed her taste for cooking from her grandmother, Rose Granite, whom she calls "Bubba," which is Slovak for grandma. Bubba lives in Clarence and for years owned a bar/restaurant. She would make pierogies and halupki (pigs in the blanket) and halushki (cabbage and noodles).

“One day we were messing around and I asked her to show me how to make the pierogies,’’ Hamilton said. “I had my friend try them and he owns a local business and he said, ‘Why aren’t you doing something with this? These are good.’ So we kind of just messed around that year and got into a couple of fairs. We operate out of a food concession trailer.’’

Hamilton prepares the basic potato-filled pierogi but also offers varieties with cheese and garlic, bacon and jalapeno, and buffalo chicken could be next. She has a business agreement with Canyon Pizza and Canyon Wings on Beaver Avenue, and they sell about 500 pierogies per week. There have been summer fairs when she sells between 5,000 and 6,000 per weekend.

“I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,’’ Hamilton said. “My partner’s always telling me, ‘You just wait, someone’s going to make you cry; someone’s going to come up to you and say (something).’

“I don’t know how I’ll handle that; it hasn’t happened yet. I had a guy call me after the Our Lady of Victory fundraiser … and I’m waiting for the complaint. And he’s like, ‘My wife and I drive everywhere, we go out to Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Reading, all the places we can to find homemade pierogies. Those are by far the best pierogies that I’ve ever had.’

“And you know, I live for that,” Hamilton said. "I mean, it’s nice to get a nice check at the end of an event but, honestly, hearing that from him put a bigger hop in my step than any check has. It’s not all about making money and having this big business. I enjoy watching people enjoy what I’m doing. They’re enjoying my product; I’m getting good feedback. It’s all around just a good feeling — so far, till that one person makes me cry.’’

Giving good feedback is what she’ll focus on as a counselor. Hamilton enjoyed a counselor education class during her first semester with professor Jerry Trusty as well as her pre-practicum and practicum classes with associate professor JoLynn Carney, she said. “The College of Education Counselor Education program and, more specifically, the school counseling program, has been one of the best decisions I have ever made,’’ Hamilton said.

“The staff is phenomenal, I never feel alone and know that there is always someone to support me and help feed me ideas. Not only am I growing as a school counselor, but as a person as well. I have learned more about myself, my relationships, who I am and who I want to be. This year has been nothing but a positive year full of growth for me – both in my counseling career and my pierogi business,’’ she said.

Those two entities are linked by people and passion, she said. “I have a passion for working with children and knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life,’’ Hamilton said. “I have a passion for continuing on my family heritage and leaving a legacy for not only myself but my family name, specifically my Bubba, Rose Granite, and all that she has given me. She gave me a foundation to build upon for my business.’’

And a few recipes, too, for pierogies and even nut rolls, which she helps her 84-year-old grandmother produce, and then sells from her concession trailer. While learning the tricks of the trade, Hamilton said her grandmother used no measuring cups; it was just a scoop of this and that and a feel for what was right. Hamilton has acquired a similar touch, she said, but only after trial and tribulation.

There’s no end in sight to her busy schedule, even if and when it culminates in her dream job. That, Hamilton said, would be nearby as an elementary school counselor. “Elementary is what my passion is,’’ she said. “And I would hire people to maintain Rosie’s because I don’t want to give that up. I don’t want to sell it; I want it to be my little baby and keep growing.

“Doing both of them is I guess where I could see my dream job. It isn’t always easy but I know it is all worth it; I enjoy all that I do. I can’t wait to see what is in store for my future. I would want to be an elementary school counselor. Being in the school has just shown me how much I’m meant to be there.

“I wouldn’t give any of it up.’’

  • Rosies-3

    Ashley Hamilton hopes to combine a career in elementary education counseling with running her business venture, Rosie's Pierogies.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 04, 2016