Stay Connected to Penn State … Now and For Life

by Roger Williams

On Penn State campuses across the commonwealth, students are immersed in their schedules, a fall chill is in the air, and alumni are returning to relive those magical college moments. The Penn State Alumni Association is focused on connecting passionate Penn Staters like you and reinforcing the value of your Penn State degree. I’m often asked by alumni, “How can I get involved?” While each person’s approach to staying connected is different, here are some great ways to get involved.

  • Foster your Penn State spirit, no matter how far you are from Dear Old State.

For many, the chance to watch a Penn State game with fellow alumni is the ultimate experience. Connect with a local Penn State chapter to learn about local football-watching parties. Others are interested in connecting with their college or campus via our established alumni societies. Still others prefer to be connected by a common Penn State interest—an alumni interest group. Whichever your preference, there’s a community that’s thrilled to welcome you.

  • Give back to your local community and the broader Penn State family.

Many groups organize events ranging from highway cleanups to golf tournaments that support scholarships for Penn State students from their area. If you’re dedicated to making a difference in your community, your Penn State family is here to help. Click here to find a chapter in your area and begin making a difference.

  • Contribute to projects that preserve Penn State history and the Penn State experience. 

March in the annual Homecoming parade, attend a THON–related fundraising gala, take part in a Penn State student sendoff picnic near you, or join the Volunteer Admissions Program. Live your pride in infinite ways.

With more than 300 affiliate groups—the backbone of your Alumni Association—there’s sure to be a community for you. Visit the Penn State Alumni Association’s website to learn more about ways to connect.

Always remember … WE ARE!!


Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g became the tenth executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association in June 2003. He came to the Alumni Association with more than 25 years of higher education experience in communications, public relations, and marketing, having served as the chief public relations officer at three major universities.

Williams started as a writer–editor in Penn State’s Department of Public Information in 1978 and rose through the ranks of manager of special projects, assistant director and director of Public Information, then served as the assistant vice president and executive director of University Relations (1986–1995). From 1995–2003, he was associate vice president for communications at Georgetown University and associate vice chancellor for university relations at the University of Arkansas.

Williams is also an affiliate associate professor in the Penn State College of Education and serves on the editorial board of the scholarly journal Perspectives on the History of Higher Education.

He holds three degrees from Penn State: a bachelor’s in history, master’s in journalism, and doctorate in higher education.

Williams lives in State College, Pa., with his wife, Karen Magnuson ’75.

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Nuclear Engineering Graduate Student Seeks to Increase Diversity Among His Peers

by Luis Ocampo

On January 25, 1999, my hometown of Armenia, Colombia, suffered a very devastating earthquake which not only destroyed a large majority of the city but also led to chaos and looting. The latter caused my father’s business to be completely empty making that whole year very hard for all of us. Given the situation and how devastated the economy was, my parents decided to find a better life and give me a better future by moving to the United States.

Coming to the U.S. was incredible! I was 12 years old and everything seemed really amazing. I came during the winter, so seeing snow for the first time was very pretty and special. I started attending middle school immediately. In Colombia, I had to walk to school, so being picked up by the bus on the corner of the street in the U.S. felt like a luxury. My life changed dramatically with all the education opportunities. I moved out of the English as a Second Language program in six months and started high school like all the regular students. I was lucky that my high school had many after-school activities and even a radio station, so I decided to participate in everything.

I ended up at Penn State, thanks to the College of Engineering’s undergraduate recruitment initiatives. For example, I participated in a program called VIEW (Visit In Engineering Week) where I was given hands-on experience relating to engineering projects, design, and presentations. Part of that week included tours of various labs and facilities around campus. One of the moments of my life that I will never forget was the Thursday of that week when we visited the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor. During the tour they did a pulse of the reactor which is quite an incredible sight and seeing it fascinated me so much that I said, “this is the coolest thing in the world and I want to be a nuclear engineer.” There was never any doubt that I would attend any other university but Penn State because the College’s Multicultural Engineering Program made sure that I liked it here. Upon being accepted into Penn State I was enrolled in the Pre-First Year Science and Engineering program, which gave me a really great experience and made me feel that that I really belonged even before my freshman year started.

One of the main challenges during my undergraduate years was the lack of diversity, particularly in engineering. I joined different clubs and societies to fill the gap and to make new friends; this was when the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers really became crucial to my involvement and my experience. As a first-generation college student, I felt that I was another minority, not because of being Latino, but rather because it felt that everyone’s family had attended Penn State for many generations.

Now as a graduate student and hopefully the first Ph.D. in my family, I am faced with an even greater lack of diversity at the graduate level. This is why we formed the Multicultural Engineering Graduate Association. It creates initiatives that foster the recruitment and retention of domestically diverse graduate students. I am very happy that Dean Elnashai has made this one of his priorities and is starting to take steps towards a solution.

Luis Ocampo was named runner-up in the J.D. Williams Student Paper Competition, based on research he performed at Brookhaven National Lab during the summer of 2013.  (Photo Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Luis Ocampo (right) was named runner-up in the J.D. Williams Student Paper Competition, based on research he performed at Brookhaven National Lab during the summer of 2013. (Photo Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory)

I think graduating as a nuclear engineer has been my greatest success. However, now in graduate school, I have to say that working at a national laboratory and being recognized by the premier technical organization in nuclear materials feel like the greatest success. I do hope that many more will come and I can contribute significantly to my field.

Luis Ocampo is president of the Multicultural Engineering Graduate Association, vice-president of the Penn State Institute of Nuclear Materials Management student chapter, elected representative for the College of Engineering to the Graduate & Professional Student Association, and a member of the Catholic Graduate Student Group. He aspires to work at a national laboratory as a scientist and eventually work for the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of nuclear materials management and nuclear security. In his free time, Luis enjoys electric remote controlled cars, cooking and baking (lately lots of pumpkin bread), listening to music, and traveling (when time permits).

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Finding the Silver Lining: First-Generation Student Recalls Challenges, Advantages of Path to Becoming a Mechanical Engineer

by Edwin Giraldo

As I embarked on my path to become a Mechanical Engineer (ME) at the Pennsylvania State University, I faced enormous financial and academic challenges. Being a first-generation student, I would come across situations that were foreign to me and my family. I completed the majority of my secondary education in the city of Philadelphia, but actually graduated from a high school in my natal Colombia. Because of this experience, my diversity would be a key factor in guiding me to achieve success at the Penn State.

I completed the first two years of my degree at Penn State Abington, a small Commonwealth Campus in the outskirts of Philadelphia. There, I encountered my first obstacle: ensuring my enrollment in the controlled ME major while working a 40-hour-per-week job and a having a 45-minute commute. To add to the adversity of my situation, I unfortunately had only obtained a cumulative GPA of 2.6 in my first year, which fell short of the 3.0 Entrance to Major Requirement. The situation seemed very hopeless. I was discouraged because I had finished my freshman year with low grades and without even completing a calculus class.

Edwin Giraldo feels fortunate to attend a college that challenges him inside and outside of the classroom.

Edwin Giraldo feels fortunate to attend a college that challenges him inside and outside of the classroom.

As it turns out, I faced a sophomore semester with the most difficult classes an underclassman can encounter. Fortunately for me I was truly attending one of the best schools in the world, where I was provided with the necessary resources to excel in my education. Coalescing this amazing initiative with my work ethic, balance of time, and attitude to learn, I was able to stand out in every single one of my classes, achieve Dean’s list in a crucial time, and enroll in the ME major. Even though the road wasn’t close to being over, I realized that I surpassed an important hurdle and most importantly I began believing in myself!

I made the difficult transition from a campus of nearly 3,400 students to University Park, consisting of more than 40,000. This meant that I would have to leave the city of Philadelphia and take my first in-major classes in a place that was completely new to me. At this time in my career, I didn’t want change since I just found a method where sowing hard work reaped good grades at my branch campus. I felt relevant in my campus and achieved a first-name basis with my professors. In reality, I was afraid of what the change could bring not only to my ME career but also to my life.

It turns out that the transition was extremely challenging and brought forth many unexpected obstacles. All of the students that were already at University Park possessed a colossal advantage over the students who were just arriving, like myself. I truly felt like a freshman all over again, but even worst I faced in-major classes and was expected to have all of the knowledge that my peers possessed. The students that attended University Park throughout their undergraduate career also seemed to share a distinct similarity; for the most part they had all completed an internship or Co-Op in their respective fields.

Nonetheless, I found the silver lining and came to the realization that I was also a Penn State student. I looked at the positive aspect of the situation and kept my Abington peers close and managed to schedule classes together and work strategically as a team. I was also very fortunate to come across many organizations, like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, that bring together engineers who share similar backgrounds or career objectives. One of the most important organizations that I am fortunate to be a leader for is ChangeUP, which is a group that helps ease the transition for transfer engineering students. Overall, I received a lot of resources that aided the transition to the University Park campus. At the end of my first semester at University Park, I received an offer for a Co-Op that would allow me to obtain my very first experience as an engineer.

I believe that as an engineer you face challenges on a daily basis. It is the effort and the time that you place in addressing these obstacles that lead to success. I feel very fortunate to attend a school that challenges me not only academically, but also outside of the classroom, where I am a part of student organizations which integrate engineers from all backgrounds to become completely prepared to succeed in their fields, while giving back to the community. Finally as I currently stand facing my senior year classes and interviewing for full-time positions, I hope to be an inspiration to first-generation students and minorities struggling to better themselves through an engineering degree!


Edwin Giraldo is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in engineering leadership development. He hopes to work as a process engineer, complete a master’s degree, and never stop learning. Edwin serves as president of the Colombian American Student Association and leader/treasurer of ChangeUP, and is active in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Multicultural Engineering Program. The Manizales, Colombia, native enjoys watching and playing soccer, dancing salsa, spending time with family, and serving his community.

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Making a Difference as an Engineering Ambassador

by Kelsi McKinley Lester


How many engineering students do you know who would willingly wake up at 5:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, so they can drive two hours and arrive at a middle school by the time class begins—all to teach students about engineering?

Probably not that many. However, I am part of an organization where the members are not only willing to wake up that ridiculously early—but do so with smiles on their faces. We’re Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors!

Engineering Ambassadors is a “professional development organization with an outreach mission.” I like to consider us the student-face for the College of Engineering. We give College of Engineering tours to prospective students, deliver “My College of Engineering” presentations that show prospective students and parents the ‘human’ side of Penn State’s College of Engineering, and most importantly conduct outreach visits.

The outreach visits are my favorite aspect of Engineering Ambassadors and the reason that I decided to apply. During my sophomore year, I learned that my friends Julia and Jen had just become Engineering Ambassadors. As I researched more about the organization, it seemed ideal for me. As I learned about the outreach visits and that I could share my love of engineering with young students, I knew I needed to apply.  Not until I had been accepted into the program did I realize the competitiveness of the process—less than half of the applicants each year get a position.

Luckily, I’ve had several opportunities to go on outreach visits over the past year. Even better, two weeks ago, I made a return visit to James Buchanan Middle School—where I had gone for my first outreach visit!


Kelsi McKinley Lester (far left), Kara Slocum, Rachel Perini, Nicole Bernstein, Lola Buonomo, and Teresa Giovannoli prepare for an Engineering Ambassadors visit at James Buchannan Middle School. (Credit: Shane Haydt)

Kelsi McKinley Lester (far left), Kara Slocum, Rachel Perini, Nicole Bernstein, Lola Buonomo, and Teresa Giovannoli prepare for an Engineering Ambassadors visit at James Buchanan Middle School. (Photo Credit: Shane Haydt)



During the outreach visits, we visit individual classrooms and deliver unique engineering presentations such as ‘Engineering Movie Magic,’ ‘Engineering the Olympics,’ and ‘Engineering a More Sustainable Future’. After the short presentation, the Engineering Ambassadors reveal the hands-on project segment where the students get to apply the engineering principles they just learned to a cool activity. The students learn that engineering is creative, and more importantly, how to work in groups.

During our visit to James Buchanan Middle School, two different groups of Engineering Ambassadors delivered presentations.

I, and two other Engineering Ambassadors, presented ‘Engineering Movie Magic’ and then conducted an activity where the students designed a landing pad for their “stuntman”–an egg. There were some very messy spills along the way, but the students learned a lot about design principles and constrictions such as time, budget, and materials that engineers face in the real world. More importantly, the eighth graders had a complete blast and learned that engineering is definitely fun!

The other group did a presentation on prosthetics which taught the students more about the humanitarian side of engineering. While engineers get to solve fun problems and make lots of money, at the end of the day, the greatest purpose of engineering is to improve the health, happiness, and well-being of the world. In the project section of the class, the students applied the design principles they had learned in the presentation to create their own prosthetic leg using a toilet plunger and a variety of other materials.

Engineering Ambassadors is not only a fun way to express my love for engineering, it has provided some great career opportunities. Engineering Ambassadors has exceptional sponsors that help fund our amazing outreach activities, and some individual Engineering Ambassadors, such as myself, have industry partner companies. As ‘industry designated Engineering Ambassadors,’ we get additional networking opportunities with these companies. Last year, my industry sponsor was Phillips66, and this year I am sponsored by another oil company, Williams. Moreover, all Engineering Ambassadors must take ENGR397A: Advanced Communication for Engineers, and the communication learned in this class proved extremely beneficial when I interned last summer.

Engineering Ambassadors is a huge time commitment and sometimes requires me to wake up at extremely early hours; however, simply knowing that my fellow Ambassadors and I make differences in others’ lives provides a satisfying reward.


Kelsi McKinley Lester is a senior majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in English. The Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, native has served as an Engineering Ambassador for a year and a half. She is also actively involved with the International Engineering Envoys, the Cross Country Club, and the Outing Club. In her limited free time, Kelsi enjoys running, rock climbing, hiking, and reading. After graduation next May, she hopes to pursue a career in industry.

Want to learn more about the Engineering Ambassadors? Visit and follow them on Facebook!



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