Paterno Fellows alumnus Jake Plevelich makes waves on Capitol Hill

Katie Moats
August 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Jake Plevelich was double majoring in political science and history as an undergraduate at Penn State, he had no idea the Paterno Fellows Program would lead him to a Congressional internship with Tim Holden, graduate school at American University, a graduate internship in the Congressional Liaison Office at the Embassy of Australia, and now to the director of public policy with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), where his work has allowed him to direct NPMA’s state government relations efforts for the leading trade group for the structural pest control industry.

Jake Plevelich stands at podium
IMAGE: Provided by Jake Plevelich

The 2013 graduate was awarded the inaugural Penn State Department of History Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2020, and he currently serves as a mentor through the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program. Before all that though, Plevelich was helping to lay the groundwork for the Paterno Fellows in the early days of the program, and through his involvement was also able to become a student in the Schreyer Honors College.

“Dr. [Jack] Selzer and my academic adviser were pitching this new program where you could graduate with a Schreyer Honors College degree, and the Paterno Fellows Program was your entryway to that,” Plevelich said. “Honestly, the honors college was not on my radar at all. I mean, I was just happy enough to get into Penn State and was looking to do my best and get into law school. But when I heard you could get into the Schreyer Honors College by proving yourself and taking on the Paterno Fellows challenge, I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’”

He found that the program pushed him to be a better student, causing him to work harder in the classroom, get involved on campus, and take advantage of all of the opportunities presented to him so that he could continue to meet the requirements and graduate as a Paterno Fellow in 2013. It was this extra dedicated time and effort throughout his four years that Plevelich felt prepared him the most for graduate school at American University, as well as his career that followed.

“I think the liberal arts education allows you to hit the ground sprinting in whatever interest or field you jump into because you can pick up a new topic and run with it since you had that experience doing that over and over again in the [College of the Liberal Arts],” he said.

Although it’s been seven years since he graduated from Penn State, Plevelich is still looking to give back to the college and the program that gave him so much. Every year, he makes a gift to the Paterno Fellows Program, mentors students, and volunteers to sit on alumni panels within the College of the Liberal Arts.

“Jake was the prototypical Paterno Fellow from the time he heard about it,” said Jack Selzer, Paterno Family Liberal Arts Professor Emeritus of Literature. “The Paterno Fellows Program is all about offering opportunities and challenges to students, and Jake always grabbed every one, just as the program was being launched. And it looks like he’s still doing it!”

Plevelich says he enjoys being able to help students who may be going through and experiencing the same things that he did during his time at Penn State, recognizing that without the guidance that he received as an undergraduate, he may not be in the place of success he is in today.

“I feel like it’s important to give back so students can benefit from this opportunity and to also promote the program and make sure there’s awareness of it,” Plevelich said. “I think it’s also important to learn from different perspectives. Liberal arts majors can work in almost any job. Still, the transition from liberal arts to specific careers requires knowledge on the available paths and how to pursue those paths. There’s plenty of career paths and openings that you won’t discover unless you hear from people who are out there doing it.”

After he graduated from American University and interned in the Congressional Liaison Office at the Embassy of Australia, Plevelich found himself in a position to provide help to lower-income residents of Colorado. He helped spearhead a bill that requires professional bed-bug control for tenants in Colorado along with the Colorado Pest Control Association and a Denver man who had taken a vow of poverty and lived in an apartment complex rife with bed bugs. That bill became law in 2019 and requires landlords to provide and pay for professional pest control services for their tenants, particularly in cases of bed bugs.

If not treated quickly and professionally, bed bugs can lead to insomnia, a disrupted sleep schedule, PTSD, anxiety, and other issues. That’s why Plevelich’s work and involvement has proved to be so important.

“Long story short, our industry has the bed bug policy expertise and helped spearhead this issue in Colorado, and it became a law last year,” he said. “So now in Colorado, every single tenant receives free professional bed-bug control. It’s really cool and positively impacting a lot of low-income tenants, since they’re disproportionately more likely to end up with landlords that are resistant to adequately addressing the issue. It’s improving the quality of life for these folks.”

Since leaving Penn State, Plevelich has spent his time helping people, whether that be Paterno Fellows, liberal arts students, or the average American. His advice to students who are looking to make a similar impact? Work hard and keep learning.

“Especially with liberal arts majors, you need to be able to keep that fire burning, handle whatever life throws at you, and pursue an array of interests,” said Plevelich. “If you keep learning, you will never get stale. The more you master your craft and keep learning, the more likely you are going to be aware of emerging problems and solutions to those problems. Too often, people get comfortable in a work approach or style and don’t challenge themselves to learn new things.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 14, 2020