By Marissa Carney
Rachel Fowkes had no intention of attending any college other than Penn State. In fact, it was the only college that she applied to. “It’s all I knew and all I ever wanted, it was my dream school.” Her acceptance made her the fifth person in her family to attend not only Penn State, but Penn State Altoona.
It didn’t take long for Fowkes to fall in love with the college and all that it could offer her academically and beyond. The senior from Anchorage, Alaska, arrived in Central Pennsylvania with plans to transition to University Park after two years as a business student through Smeal College. But her ambitions began to shift quickly. Fowkes, who describes herself as being quite shy growing up, wasted no time getting extremely involved with every organization she could manage. “I joined a sorority, I became a tour guide, I became a residence assistant my second semester, I joined Residence Hall Association, and the National Residence Hall Honorary, so I was really involved, and I fell in love with all the organizations. I didn’t want to leave them.” Fowkes also soon realized that business wasn’t for her. She switched to communications which she felt was a much better fit, as well as a major she could finish at Altoona. “I loved Altoona and after settling in here, I did not want to leave it.”
Fowkes says her decision made perfect sense for her coming from the small community in which she grew up. “I work better in a small atmosphere. If I would have gone to University Park, I would have gotten lost. I would have figured it out, and I would have done fine, but I would not have had the same experience. I would have become a number to some of those professors and the organizations.” Instead, by choosing to stay at Altoona, Fowkes was able to get to know her professors well, having many of the same ones for several classes. She was never overwhelmed or intimidated by them, rather impressed with their credentials and teaching skills. “I think we have absolutely amazing professors. Most of them have been in the field or still work in the field, and they choose to come to a smaller campus. They choose to teach here because they want to be more interactive with their students. They are the kind of teachers who want to get know you.”
Fowkes believes that because Penn State is often spoken of as one big entity, people don’t get to truly see its campuses and what they have to offer. She explains that Penn State Altoona isn’t necessarily better than University Park or vice versa, but that it all depends on the student and what will be a best fit for him or her individually. “I actually had a lot of family members and even friends who asked me, ‘why didn’t you go to University Park, did you not get in,’ and I had to explain that ‘no, I chose this, this is what I want.’” Fowkes says she thinks many students are pressured to transfer to University Park or start their college career there, and she knows of many who regret their decision to leave Altoona, so she feels confident in her choices. “I know that staying here has dramatically changed my college experience for the better and has dramatically changed me as a person.”
As graduation draws near, Fowkes is excited to celebrate with classmates and professors she’s become close with over the last four years, knowing it will be special to share such a big day with the people who have made her college career so incredible. She’s also excited to hold an esteemed place in her family. “I am so happy that I get to be the person in the family to graduate from Penn State Altoona. I’m not the first person to go here, but I am the first to graduate from here and that’s huge to me.”
When Fowkes graduated high school, she thought about taking a break for a year. School had never really been her thing, she didn’t particularly enjoy it. But then she decided to try a year of college and see how it went. “It’s crazy how much I love it. It’s not just the organizations I’m a part of it, it’s the classes, and overall package of what Penn State Altoona is. I’m so incredibly proud of myself and excited. I already know that I’m going to miss this place. What an amazing of a college experience I have had here.”
Watch and listen as Rachel talks about her experiences at Penn State Altoona.