Mother’s dedication to education inspired son to add to scholarship

Jim Carlson
November 07, 2018

It took Joe Niebel’s mother, Doris, nearly nine years attending part time to complete her elementary education degree from Penn State, and her family is honoring her full-time determination and dedication to teaching by enhancing an estate gift she initiated in 2000.

Doris Niebel, who died in 2004, waited to attend Penn State as an adult student until she and her husband, Benjamin -- who worked in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at the University – had all four of their children in elementary school.

“She completed her elementary education degree on a part-time basis over eight or nine years and then gained employment with the State College Area School District where she taught fifth grade for about 12 years,” Joe Niebel said. “Mom was very proud of attaining her college education and enjoyed her teaching career.”

Niebel noted that his maternal grandparents emigrated to the United States from Scotland, where his grandfather worked in industry. “In their new country, they struggled financially and a college education was not a possibility for their daughter,” he said.

“The positive impact of Mom’s perseverance to complete her school, while we ourselves were in school, was so motivating to me. Therefore, we both felt this was a perfect fit for the two of us (he and his wife, Sandy) to enhance the Doris M. Niebel Scholarship in Education. Our children – Cassandra, 2009 engineering, and Benjamin, 2006 IST -- are very proud Penn Staters, and hopefully our grandchildren will find their way to Happy Valley,” Niebel said.

Joe said his wife, Sandy, knew from a young age that she wanted to be an elementary teacher. However, she grew up on a dairy farm in the Penns Valley area with five siblings, and the family was unable to allocate money for college educations, Joe said. “She was determined to graduate with an elementary education degree and with the help of school loans and scholarships was able to attain her lifelong goals,” he said.

Sandy taught for 33 years in the Penns Valley Area School District. “She was able to relate to my mom’s experiences and understood firsthand the difficulty of monetary restraints in meeting career goals,” Joe said.

The scholarship that Doris started in 2000 is for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled or planning to enroll in the College of Education who have achieved outstanding academic records or who manifest promise of outstanding academic success; have a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale; and who have a demonstrated financial need. First preference is given to returning-adult students age 32 or older and second preference is for returning adult students age 24 or older.

“My mom realized that without financial resources, she would have been unable to attain her goals. She understood that many adult students are unable to obtain a college degree due to monetary restraints,” Joe said. “Her desire was to help those who, like herself, were not able to go to college right after high school due to financial issues, family obligations or just the uncertainty of a career choice.”

Joe graduated from the College of Education with a degree in rehabilitation and human services in 1970, and also competed on Penn State’s track and field team. He enlisted in the Navy, was a hospital corpsman and also completed physical therapy/occupational therapy technician school.

He earned a master’s of public administration from Penn State Harrisburg and he is a retired family therapist for Keystone Service Systems in State College.

The Benjamin W. Niebel Work Design Lab in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering honors his father, Joe said.

The family’s work ethic and overall devotion to the University was more than enough motivation for Joe and Sandy to add to his mother’s scholarship fund.

“It was a challenge for my mother to manage and care for us four kids, complete her education, while also helping my dad’s book-writing by typing manuscripts,” Joe said. “She found teaching to be a rewarding experience and often proudly shared that she never could have done this if she did not have the financial resources to go to Penn State as an adult student.”

The couple now enjoys the added benefit of meeting students who receive financial assistance from the scholarship. “Sandy and I enjoy attending the Scholarship Dinner. It is always rewarding hearing experiences of those who were able to take advantage of this scholarship,” Joe said.

“All the students we have met have shared their unique situations and challenges. Our knowing this scholarship has helped in a small way to helping them meet their goals is so rewarding to us.”

Because his mother was a “caring individual,” Joe said pledging money to the College of Education “felt right” to him and Sandy.

“We feel greatly rewarded just by having a small connection to the College of Education,” he said.

Attending the Scholarship Dinner, sharing with recipients of the Doris M. Niebel Scholarship, and hearing of the accomplishments of the college have all been an inspiration for us.”

Gifts like these advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

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Last Updated November 29, 2018