Michaela Harpster selected as Liberal Arts college marshal for fall commencement

Katie Moats
December 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Michaela Harpster was selected to represent the College of the Liberal Arts as the student marshal for Penn State’s fall commencement, which will be held virtually at 2 p.m. on Dec. 19.

Harpster will graduate with bachelor of science degrees in communication arts and sciences and psychology. Her faculty marshal is Shannon Cruz, assistant professor of communication arts and sciences.

Harpster received several awards and scholarships, including the President’s Freshman Award and the Evan Pugh Scholar Award.

She said being chosen as the college marshal for the College of the Liberal Arts goes beyond a one-time honor in a virtual ceremony. It means that all of the hard work she’s done at Penn State throughout the past three and a half years has been worth it, she explained.

“Being selected as the college marshal is an honor that validates all of the hard work I put into my education,” said Harpster. “I am thankful for the support I’ve received from the College of the Liberal Arts these past few years.”

During her time at Penn State, Harpster has focused a lot of her efforts into understanding how people communicate and what those communications impact and influence in other areas of people’s lives. She said she believes that a society that understands its people and is able to communicate effectively is one that’s able to thrive in all areas of life, such as with romantic relationships, family relationships, and so on.

“I chose these majors because I’ve always been interested in why people do and say the things that they do,” she said. “Whenever someone does or says something, I always find myself wondering about the thought processes that got them there. I would argue that understanding patterns of human behavior and communication is the most valuable tool for navigating life.”

Beyond her classes, Harpster has involved herself on campus by working as a research assistant in two different labs in the Department of Psychology. One lab looks for trends in opinion, and the other involves anxiety and emotion.

“Under Dr. Shannon Cruz, who is my faculty adviser, I looked for and coded common trends in individuals’ attitudes about climate change,” she said. “In the anxiety and emotions lab, I conducted experiments that measured/graphed participants’ physiological responses to different mood inductions. I also coded results.”

In addition to studying abroad in New Zealand and Scotland, Harpster participated in several internships. She was a human resources intern with Central Susquehanna Immediate Unit, a product development intern with New Pig Corporation, a business intern with Under Pressure Connections and a strategic communications intern with Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.

Harpster also is a board member for the Scott Sipple Foundation, which raises money for organizations dedicated to mental health awareness, suicide prevention, wildlife conservation and more.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, Harpster’s work and classes have looked a little different as most classes have been shifted online and in-person activities cancelled. Thankfully, though, help from her friends and creating a solid weekly routine have helped make the transition a little easier, she said.

“All my classes are online this semester, which definitely has its perks, but I really miss being on campus,” Harpster said. “It can be easy to be unmotivated when you’re lying on the couch at home, and I definitely did way more procrastinating at the beginning of this semester than I have done in my entire life. I found that sticking to a routine and making a schedule at the beginning of each week helps me stay organized. I talk to my friends all the time, and we still go downtown to eat and grab drinks, which undoubtedly keeps me sane.”

Now, as Harpster is wrapping up the final weeks of her undergraduate career, she is reflecting on what she’s learned as both a student at Penn State and in the College of the Liberal Arts. Basically, she says, it boils down to being able to put yourself out there and agree to do things even if they scare you.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my time at Penn State is to say yes to opportunities,” she said. “It can be scary to put yourself out there and try something new, but every experience teaches you something. Even if you end up hating what you’re doing, at least you know what to avoid in the future — and if you love it, then you may have just found some direction.”

With interviews in fields ranging from communications to marketing to sales lined up for after graduation, Harpster has definitely learned how to say “yes” when the opportunity comes. For fellow Liberal Arts students, she has one piece of advice: Find the balance.

“The best advice I have for other students is to find a healthy balance between your academic and social life. Personally, balancing my academic and social life equally worked best because it forced me to manage my time effectively,” Harpster said. “Academics are important, but there is more to life than class! This is a time to make memories and meet all different kinds of people. When you look back 20 years from now, you’re going to remember the things that you did — or didn’t — do, not what grade you got on your English 015 paper.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 07, 2020