Student Engagement Expo showcases students' extracurricular journeys

Julianna Rush
October 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Student engagement is the key to opening new doors for students to get involved with the community on what drives and motivates them.

To ultimately discover their "why," Penn State offensive lineman Charlie Shuman said, “You’re going to be in some type of bubble and you think that’s it, but you have to break out and meet new people outside of that bubble.”

As the keynote speaker during the 2018 Student Engagement Expo on Oct. 17, Shuman addressed the 200-plus people gathered in Freeman Auditorium to hear about his college experience, which includes his ongoing work with his nonprofit, Big Helping Little.

“You’re more than your GPA,” Shuman said. “There’s so much more than that. You can still get good grades and get involved and have fun. College is supposed to be the best experience.”

The Student Engagement Expo, hosted by the Student Engagement Network, showcased nine undergraduate students who found opportunities they were passionate about. Taylor Baum, a senior majoring in biology and electrical engineering, spoke about her journey to MIT. She applied to more than 15 internships with little success until she finally got a response from MIT. Baum reminded the audience they will always face rejection, but it just takes one yes to make a difference.

“You will be told no over and over again … but it just takes one thing, one person, one experience to literally change your life forever,” Baum said.

Alexandre Bourcier, a senior majoring in biology, spoke about his journey from France to the United States. He encouraged students to forget the checklist. When he decided to pursue the things he cared about, it led to him creating a Remote Area Medical (RAM) chapter at Penn State with the goal of giving people accessibility to health care.

“I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to help people. It was always very straightforward,” Bourcier said. “But you have to forget about the checklist, work hard, and believe in your power to change things.”

Others, like Kathyleen O’Leary, a junior majoring in information sciences and technology, emphasized her passion for coding, which led to her involvement and internship with Code For Her. The program offers free workshops to adult women and gender-diverse people at Penn State.

“What got me out of bed in the morning was trying to figure out how I could help other people achieve their dreams of technology,” said O’Leary. Her goal is to provide a space where women can be heard in a field that isn’t traditionally common for females. “Once you find what motivates you, get out of your room.”

Sometimes it’s about finding a safe place where you feel free to express yourself, according to Amari Lee, a senior majoring in psychology. Walking into the involvement fair as a freshman, Lee knew exactly where she wanted to go — Writers Organized to Represent Diverse Stories (W.O.R.D.S.). In other words — home. Her organization gives a safe space for learning and sharing an interconnection of knowledge between people.

“There are so many voices outside of our own that we don’t get to acknowledge on a daily basis,” Lee said. “I call on you to experience things outside of yourself, your story, and where you’re from.”

Coming from different majors and backgrounds, these students all shared something in common: they discovered their "why," and extracurricular pursuits they were passionate about to devote their time and energy. The presenters shared their story of discovering new experiences, meeting new people, and turning what makes them happy into a realistic career path.

“Go out, find your experience, and don’t have someone tell you what to do,” Shuman said. “College is supposed to be the best four years of your life. Go make it that.”

The Student Engagement Network is a joint initiative between Undergraduate EducationStudent Affairs and Outreach and Online Education. The network's mission is to advance the power of participation by connecting students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact and leaders of the world.

For more information about the Student Engagement Network, visit or email

Last Updated October 29, 2018