Graduate students giving back to honors program that brought them together

Jeff Rice
February 12, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When he is interviewing prospective students who are considering joining the Schreyer Honors College, Penn State graduate student Ken Hall is often asked if he is still in touch with any of his friends or classmates from his days as a Schreyer Scholar.

His answer usually begins with the words: “As a matter of fact … ”

Hall met his wife, Nicole (Kirchner) Hall, during the orientation program for first-year Schreyer Honors College students (SHO TIME) in August 2013. They began dating at the end of that school year and were married four years later, shortly before they both elected to continue their studies at the University.

Today, both volunteer in the Honors College’s Alumni Admissions Interview Program (AAIP) by talking to applicants in optional, 30-minute interviews. 

“You’re advertising and helping encourage potential students that might want to join and making them feel like they know a little bit more about the program and the campus and give them feel for what alumni of the program might look like,” Ken said.

Now in its seventh year, the AAIP had more than 250 alumni interviewers conduct nearly 1,300 interviews with applicants around the United States and three other countries during the most recent cycle. Like the Halls, more than 63% of those interviewers graduated within the last 10 years. The Scholar Alumni Society received a 2019 Volunteer Award in the category of Young Alumni Involvement from the Penn State Alumni Association for its support of the program.

The Halls were inspired to join the program by Courtney Hall, Ken’s mother, an alumna of the University Scholars Program who started shortly after Ken and his brother, Patrick, had enrolled in the Honors College. Their own Scholar journeys started at SHO TIME, where Ken and Nicole were paired up as each other’s “first college buddy” during a team-building exercise the first night.

They lost track of each other before the activity was over but had a theater class together that semester, though they really didn’t hit it off until the following spring. Ken and some friends were in the HUB looking for some female partners for their ballroom dancing class and came upon Nicole, who was at the HUB for craft night.

“My hands were covered in paint,” she said. “It was not something I would ever normally do. I did not like dancing that much. I don’t know why I said yes, but I did.”

The two started dating during finals week and wrote each other letters during the summer before becoming “official,” as Nicole said, at the beginning of the following semester. They were engaged at the Penn State Arboretum in 2016, then married there a year later.

Today, Nicole performs density functional theory calculations in the Materials Optimization and Simulation by Ab Initio Computation (MOSIAC) lab, and Ken spends his days on the other side of the Millennium Science Complex, working on applications of machine learning and mathematics and data simulation. Both credit the research they did for their honors theses with preparing them for post-graduate research.

“I was involved in research from Day One, and I feel like Schreyer encouraged that,” Nicole said. “That was one of the reasons we stayed. We already had established such good roots and resources here.”

The personal roots that took hold during orientation are another reason they are grateful they chose Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College.

“‘Who’s the most important person you met at Schreyer?’” Nicole said, echoing a question she often hears from applicants during interviews. “My husband.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total approximately 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 28 countries. More than 14,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

For more information on the Alumni Admissions Interview Program and other Schreyer Honors College alumni programs, contact Coordinator of Constituent Relations and Annual Giving Sean Goheen at or visit

  • Penn State graduate students Ken and Nicole Hall

    Ken and Nicole Hall, who met at SHO TIME (Schreyer Honors Orientation) were engaged and married at the Penn State Arboretum.

    IMAGE: Photo provided
Last Updated February 12, 2020