Experiences as students lead to lasting connections for alumni

December 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eighty-one-year-old Ellen Winston graduated from Penn State's College of Education in 1960 and has felt connected ever since.

“I just believe that it’s a great university and how it helped me,” said Winston, who lives about 30 miles southwest of Atlanta. “It made me the person I think I became. It helped me to mature and when I was on campus, I was very, very active on campus. I was counseling freshmen women when I was a junior; I did that for the Dean of Women.”

Ellen Winston

Ellen Winston

IMAGE: Photo provided

Winston was on campus in September and took a tour of the College of Education facilities with Education Student Council member Sarah Losco. “She was fabulous; I know she’s applying for a fellowship and I just thought she was a wonderful person,” Winston said.

“She could tell me about the College of Education and what was happening. Good personality. I was very pleased to meet her. It gives you hope. I don’t have any grandchildren and I’m not too familiar with young people today, but it gives me hope with who she was.”

Losco, a junior majoring in secondary English education, used scholarship funding she received through unrestricted gifts to participate in the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Immersion Program in Ecuador.

“It helped me to realize that the field of TESL encompasses many of the things that I am passionate about including teaching, advocacy and current events,” Losco said. “The program has inspired me to go into TESL, and maybe even teach abroad. Without the support of the College of Education, I wouldn’t have been able to participate, and I could not be more grateful for the chance to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Winston is the only Penn Stater in her family. Her late husband graduated from Virginia Tech, her daughter from Georgia Tech, and her son from the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

While she did earn a teaching degree, she ended up teaching for only 3½ years because her husband was a Chevron executive who was asked to move to a new city every two to four years, she explained.

“I didn’t teach long but I really felt connected to the University ever since graduating,” Winston said. “Once you’re a teacher, it kind of stays in your blood. I would have taught more school if we didn’t move like we did.

“It was so important as to how it formed my career and my going forward. I volunteered in the schools all the time. I always found a niche to volunteer in the school that my kids were in and doing something in the educational aspect. I felt connected to the University.”

Winston is still volunteering at the Heritage School in Newnan, Georgia, a private pre-K to 12th-grade school.

While living at Hilton Head, Winston met former College of Education Dean David Monk at a 1999 alumni event and stayed active ever since.

“I’m pro Penn State,” she said. “I wanted to contribute a little bit. I think I gave more time than money, talking about Penn State and maybe talking to students who were planning to go there. That’s what I would try to do.”

It was unrestricted giving such as Winston’s that enabled Taylor Young to travel to Ecuador. Like Losco, Young is a secondary English major, and she was grateful for the financial assistance.

“This experience wouldn’t have been possible for me without the generous support from College of Education donors,” said Young, who is from the suburban Philadelphia town of Lansdale.

“Spending five weeks in Ecuador proved to be an incredibly rich learning experience, since I had the opportunity to engage in the program’s classes and teaching practicum, live with a host family, take a class in Kichwa at La Universidad de Cuenca, visit different parts of Ecuador, and learn from so many people.”

Students who were able to study abroad

Because they received Education Future Funds, College of Education students Kelly Hyland, left, and Devon Preston were able to study in Ireland and Italy, respectively.

IMAGE: Photos provided

While Losco and Young used funding to head to Ecuador, Kelly Hyland was able to go to Ireland, and Devon Preston traveled to Florence, Italy.

“Traveling to Ireland to study the intersection of culture and disability has left a huge impact on me not only as a future educator but also as a person,” said Hyland, an elementary and early childhood education major.

“After visiting different sites and attending the 2019 National University of Ireland Summer Disability School, I now realize that at the end of the day, no matter who you are, we all want the same things and those are opportunities, choices and a sense of belonging within society," Hyland added.

“I am truly grateful for this opportunity to travel to Ireland and gain a better sense of the world around me. Thank you for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Preston, a middle-level education English major, studied in Florence through the Human Development and Family Studies program. “It allowed me to be immersed in the unique and beautiful culture of Italy,” she said.

“Not only was I able to — through firsthand experiences — further my knowledge of Italian history, education, family relationships and family businesses, but I was also able to discover more about myself, my passions and my love for travel.

“This trip has given me a new and unique Italian educational perspective that I can access when I become a teacher one day. Thank you, donors, for granting me an entirely new world of knowledge, lifelong memories and many new friends,” Preston said.

All of these students were able to enrich their educations because of the latitude the college has in awarding financial assistance through the Education Future Fund.

The people who receive funds which aren’t specifically designated typically can’t thank the donors enough. The people who provide that financial generosity talk about a lifelong connection to and affinity formed with Penn State.

Donors who designate their charitable contributions to the Education Future Fund can help the journey to earning a degree — from studying abroad to affording tuition — become significantly less stressful for College of Education students.

“Unrestricted gifts offer the flexibility to address urgent priorities,” said Jenn Moore, assistant director of stewardship, alumni and development in Penn State’s College of Education. “Dean (Kimberly) Lawless can put those gifts toward scholarships, use them for program expenses, or to address whatever the greatest needs of the college might be at the time.”

And many times, Moore said, that funding is the difference that allows students to take advantage of study abroad experiences, or in students’ abilities to finish their student teaching in order to earn their degree.

“Unrestricted gifts can make all the difference,” she said. “Unrestricted gifts, such as those made to Future Funds or our college’s general scholarship, have the potential to be awarded as tuition support to any student: students can be full-time, half-time or part-time and they don’t have to have a particular GPA or a specific level of financial need. If the scholarship committee determines that a student has a legitimate need, we can award them support from unrestricted funds.”

Scholarships generated by unrestricted giving of up to $4,000 are also available for short-term teaching abroad. These funds further support the Ecuador Immersion Program, in addition to aiding the Family Literacy Certificate scholarship program, the Alumni Student Teacher Network and even graduate assistantships, according to Moore.

“They are the most flexible dollars that the college has at its disposal,” she said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 18, 2019