Spark Program helps students get jump on academic opportunities

Sean Yoder
January 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Spark Program allows students early in their college careers to delve into the worlds of fellowships, campus resources and undergraduate research. 

Offered through University Libraries and the University Fellowships Office, the seven-week program runs from Feb. 5 to March 26 with sessions scheduled every Tuesday evening from 5 to 6:30 p.m., with dinner to be provided. There is no cost to students.

Applications are already open and can be found here

Sophomores Joshua Forrest and Owen Wing participated in Spark during their first year at Penn State and both said the program widened their academic horizons.

Wing, who is majoring in finance and data science, said the program gave him a chance to explore different academic paths, while at the same time bumping elbows with a diverse group of students and majors.

“Because of the magnitude of opportunities at Penn State, I have found that it can be easy to silo yourself off with peers who have similar interests and future career goals,” Wing said. “While it is nice to be surrounded by people with similar interests, this can also narrow your focus to a specific path and limit the options you perceive.”

Forrest, of West Windsor, New Jersey, said he found the contacts with Penn State professors and administrators invaluable.

“That is much harder for a student to recreate on their own,” Forrest said. “It is also really cool to be able to meet a bunch of driven students and be inspired by what they are doing.”

He said he learned a great deal about resumes, cover letters, goal setting and applying for fellowships. The aerospace engineering sophomore said one of the most memorable parts of the program was working through a mission statement exercise with Carolee Bull, who is head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology.

“I had always had loose goals for what I wanted to achieve in my head, but this activity talked about life goals as well and really made me think about what I wanted to achieve,” he said. “As a result I’ve decided to be more aggressive and put myself out there — I’d rather fail than never try at all.”

While already studying abroad in Australia this spring, Forrest said he was inspired to apply for a second fellowship in Australia, and another in New Zealand.

Students in the program will also learn about how to find undergraduate research opportunities that are right for them.

The deadline for applying is Jan. 18, and decisions will be made by Jan. 25. Faculty are encouraged to recommend students to the program. Students must be in their first year, have a GPA of 3.3 or higher and be able to commit to attending at least six of the workshops. The program is not for credit and is completely voluntary. 

For more information on University Libraries, visit the

The University Fellowships Office is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at Sign up for UE Headlines for the latest news. 


Last Updated January 08, 2019