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LEAP Center eases transition for new Penn College students

The newly launched LEAP Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology, which helps first-year and transfer students “learn, evolve, adapt and prepare” for rewarding futures, is already fulfilling its promise.

Headquartered on the first floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center, a convenient gateway to a number of enrollment-related offices at Penn College, the department embodies Penn College’s philosophy that a strong beginning leads to students’ long-term success.

“Today’s students are looking for a sense of belonging and expect a connected experience at college. The LEAP Center’s mission is to be a cohesive and collaborative partner with students in their first year,” director Christie Bing Kracker said. “The LEAP advisers will strive to connect students to expert resources such as their academic advisers, counseling services and student engagement to increase their ability to successfully navigate any obstacles to achieving their academic goals.”

Encouragement greets visitors immediately upon entry, from the positivity on the wall to the front-desk friendliness of Paula M. Hornberger, LEAP Center secretary.
Encouragement greets visitors immediately upon entry, from the positivity on the wall to the front-desk friendliness of Paula M. Hornberger, LEAP Center secretary.

The center’s very decor projects positivity: a mural of student leaders, exuberantly jumping, greets visitors; another wall definitively exhorts students to “reach new heights.”

Seven LEAP advisers work in concert with newcomers’ academic liaisons to bypass impediments to a smooth collegiate experience. The center also plans a series of workshops on such vital student topics as self-care, study skills, test-taking strategies and time management.

“The creation of the LEAP Center is another testament to Penn College’s commitment to student achievement,” said Carolyn R. Strickland, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost. “Our goal for student retention is to provide support structures that help students navigate obstacles and challenges that are known to impede their success.”

In just the short time that the LEAP Center has been open, she said, its advisers are positively impacting students’ transition to college life. There has also been favorable feedback from prospective students inquiring about the type of support that is available to those who enroll.

“We want families to know that we recognize the challenges that students face when entering and throughout college, and we are committed, through initiatives like the LEAP Center, to supporting academic success,” Strickland said.

In addition to a pair of open houses – one during Welcome Weekend and one for college employees – the center has hosted a number of icebreakers to introduce its services to students. Many have featured free food and other giveaways, and one activity facilitated the relaxation that only crayons can provide.

What the center mainly offers, however, is a foundational helping hand extended to those who may not even know they need one.

“Best practice indicates we can no longer view students through a purely academic lens and that we must see them as a whole person with complex lives, responsibilities and roles,” Bing Kracker said. “Penn College understands that whatever is happening in a student’s life can weigh heavily on their academic success.”

For Bubba N. Canning, who transferred to Penn College after studying sports management at Neumann University, the center’s accessibility is a welcoming signpost along an occasionally rocky road – making the difference between giving up and soldiering on.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” the Hainesport, New Jersey, resident said of his passage to Penn College. “But my roommate, podmates and my LEAP adviser (Lizze R. Winters), made it 10 times easier.”

Canning said he realized last fall that he “didn’t want to do college anymore,” so he chose to forego the spring semester and work through the summer.

“In that time off, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he explained. “I had heard about Penn College through friends and family, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a trade or not, even though I learn much better from working with my hands.”

As he explored the college website, he said, his interest grew, “and I knew I wanted to go back to school as long as it was Penn College that I would be going to.”

He took a general campus tour and considered a construction major, then “went home and reconfigured myself” and looked at other possibilities. He returned with an eye toward graphic design “when all of a sudden, I got a text from one of the advisers saying there was an electrical tour available at 2.”

“I don’t think I was ever excited like I was at that moment right there,” he said. “After the tours, I had my mind made up and knew I wanted to go into the electrical industry. I just didn’t know what I wanted to study in the electrical field.”

He weighed his options – two-year degrees in electrical construction or electrical technology – and chose the latter, submitting his application and getting accepted into the major.

Fast-forward to “move-in day” on Aug. 15.

“I didn’t know what to expect because everything was still fairly new to me,” he said. “But with help from my roommate and family, settling in my room was so easy and ran so smoothly.” The first week of class, however, turned into a rough patch, as he began to second-guess himself and started thinking about transferring to a different major.

“That’s where Lizze came in and pretty much saved me. I met with her twice, and she really helped me out a lot in making my decision to stay with it,” he said. “Also one of my professors, Mr. (Jon W.) Hart (instructor of electrical technologies and occupations), helped me and made me feel so much better about sticking with my degree.”

LEAP adviser Melissa M. Stocum welcomes students to the new and inviting resource on the first floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center.
LEAP adviser Melissa M. Stocum welcomes students to the new and inviting resource on the first floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center.

Despite the roadblocks, he now considers his transition a success: “It wouldn’t have been like that if it weren’t for Lizze, my family and Mr. Hart. I absolutely love the school already. The environment here is like no other, and I never want to leave.”

Morgan T. Bartholomew, a plastics and polymer engineering technology student from Etters, admits to being nervous upon arrival.

“College is nothing like high school; you are entering a whole new area, with all new people and new classes,” she said. “When walking through the doors for the first time on move-in day, my stomach was filled with butterflies, as I was excited to start my next journey at my new home for the next four years.”

She said she was happy to learn about the LEAP program and is very glad the campus helps steer students in the right direction. She was unsure when to reach out to connect, “but then, during my First Year Experience course, one of our very first assignments was to schedule a meeting with our LEAP adviser. The timing was perfect!”

She said her LEAP adviser, Allison M. Savage, made her feel very comfortable, shared a lot of great advice and was able to answer all of her questions.

“She was willing to listen and provide the guidance that I was looking for,” Bartholomew said. “I will definitely be reaching out to her throughout the year, and I would strongly encourage every student to make an appointment with their LEAP adviser – even if they are unsure of exactly what they are in need of.”

Among other first-year assessments, Walter J. Heiser, a heating, ventilation & air conditioning design technology major from Easton, found everyone at the LEAP Center to be helpful and considerate.

“Mr. (Philip G.) Berry seems to be a fantastic guy, and I am sure he will be a great resource in my future. He was able to answer all my questions and provide insight on topics that I hadn’t even thought of,” Heiser said. “All in all, the LEAP Center has proved to be a beneficial and productive resource, and I could not have asked for a better first experience.”

For more information about the LEAP Center, email or call 570-320-5228.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor;
and Larry D. Kauffman, digital publishing specialist/photographer



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