Four students share their journey to graduation on camera over four years

May 05, 2021

Just a couple of days officially remain in her Penn State undergraduate career and Dymand Mitchell can no longer avoid the obvious.

“Everything just seems so final right now,” Mitchell said. She’ll earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism as a member of the Class of 2021 and she believes her four years represent an important period of success and transition.

“It’s been an amazing experience. I know college is one of those times when you start to learn more about yourself, and I definitely think if I wasn’t at Penn State I wouldn’t have learned as much about myself as I did,” she says. “To sum up my experience in one word it would be … amazing.

“I was helping students get ready for a tour the other day with one of my organizations and just walking around this place made me realize how much I’m going to miss it.”

Mitchell was one of a handful of students with intended communications majors who were randomly selected when they arrived on campus in 2017 to participate in check-ins with the communications team in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. The request to the students was low-key and simple — make time for some informal, on-camera sessions once a semester — as part of an effort to follow the students through their academic careers.

Eight students initially agreed to participate and five remained fairly faithful to the project, which admittedly was not always consistent. Still, the effort produced some interesting highlights.

Five of the students, including Mitchell, will graduate this weekend from the University. Two others graduated early, officially part of the Class of 2020, and another has decided to pursue multiple degrees and will graduate next year.

Video clips of some of the students show them in their first semester on campus, and then in their final semester. (Or what would’ve been his final semester in the case of Dan Howanetz, who graduated in December.)

One of this weekend’s graduates, Jurich, will serve as the student marshal for the film production major. During his career, Jurich, a dean’s list student from Ashburn, Virginia, was named a Bellisario College Fellow, served as a Bellisario College student tour guide and worked as a film equipment room assistant.

He wrote and directed two films as a student (“Take A Little Time” and “Wheat-19”) and served as a cinematographer on another (“Pulling Daisies”). He also served as a member and officer for FOTO, a THON special interest organization, and as a member of the Student Film Organization. He danced in THON as well.

After five semesters on campus, Howanetz, Jurich and Mitchell met for a roundtable session designed for them to share their experiences. The camaraderie and commonalities for students who had never met before was striking.

For her part, Mitchell, from Maryland, overcame early career concerns about her chosen major and then found success because she got involved on campus. She was a student worker at the Berkey Creamery, joined The Daily Collegian and later added The Underground, a multicultural student-run media site, to her resume. She subsequently served as editor-in-chief of The Underground, which she calls the highlight of her time at Penn State.

“Freshman year I was just worried about getting adjusted and that that sort of prevented me from getting involved with certain things,” Mitchell says. “So, just getting involved sooner would be my advice to myself.”

Howanetz earned his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and complemented it with a minor in information sciences and technology as well as a business certificate. As an undergraduate, he was a junior system administrator for the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and a video manager or the Penn State football team.

After graduation he was hired by Ratheon as a senior systems integration technologist. After growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania and making the most of his Penn State career, he lives in northern Virginia. He was happy and well-prepared with his experience at the University. As a result, he’s looking forward to what’s next.

“When you’ve moving into college you kind of have the whole university ecosystem around you and you’re paying up front or most of it and it’s kind of laid out for you,” Howanetz says. “When you’re living on your own it’s a lot more financial planning — you’re getting paid X amount of dollars and you pick your housing and food, and that also means you have to chase down a lot more because nobody’s laying it out for you.

“The college experience — you’ll never be able to replicate living a door down from most of your friends — that’s something I’ll miss. But this area has a lot of people and opportunities. I’m looking forward to making the most of that.”

Last Updated June 02, 2021