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Jumping into UP from a Commonwealth Campus

Did you know that 60% of all Penn State graduates started their education at a Commonwealth Campus? As part of that percentage, I took advantage of the many services and activities offered at my former campus, Penn State Altoona. It had all the same amenities as a large campus, in a more intimate setting.

Upon transitioning to the University Park campus this past fall, I was ready to apply the life lessons that I had learned at Altoona, and jump right in.

I quickly came to realize, however, that Penn State University Park is a campus divided.

When I would meet new people in my classes, we would talk about the usual: “Where are you from? What year are you? Do you live off-campus?” and all the normal first day banter. After conversing with people in my classes, I came to realize that many have an un-fair bias towards Commonwealth Campus students.

When I explained that I had gone to Penn State Altoona for two years prior to the fall semester, I noticed some individuals attitudes change.

Almost suddenly, I wasn’t a real Penn State student. Unfortunately, this seems to be a notion that some students believe to be true. It’s almost as if it is looked down on, to have started at a Commonwealth Campus.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never regret transitioning to University Park, but I also have a soft spot for Penn State Altoona.

I’d like to attempt to change these unfair myths and stereotypes. Some of the most well-rounded, capable students come from smaller campuses across the commonwealth.

I hope that I can shed some light on my experience as a former commonwealth student, as well as other students.

Below, I have compiled some positive experiences from former commonwealth students. These individuals all have fond memories of their campuses, and have continued to grow as influential student leaders at University Park.

A more individualized learning experience
Although commonwealth students experience somewhat of a shock upon arriving at University Park, they had already been the same course as University Park students at their own campuses. It’s a silly notion to think that commonwealth students were getting a lesser education than University Park students.

“People think that we won’t be able to handle the workload, or that the atmosphere is too intense, and we won’t be able to excel. Some people go to a Commonwealth Campus and get a more personal experience and are able to grasp the fundamentals better, whereas, a student who may have taken the class at UP had a harder time, because the class was larger and less interactive.” (Santwon Hines-Senior, Greater Allegheny)

More or less, the change in class size and structure can be a challenge for students, not the material.

“My biggest change would be the way classes are taught, not necessarily the rigor. I feel like some professors here at University Park are much less engaging. At the Commonwealth Campus, I felt much more engaged.” (Paul Ferrera-Junior,Altoona)

The use of teaching assistants is also much less common at Commonwealth Campuses.

“Everyone who taught me in class had at least a masters. We didn’t have T.A.’s.” (D.J. Ryan-Senior, Altoona, Greater Allegheny).

A sense of community
At a Commonwealth Campus, you aren’t just another face in the crowd. You bump into your friends almost daily, and seeing a familiar face is always comforting. When commonwealth students transition to University Park, they leave behind their campus but, generally speaking, their friends move on with them.

“When you come up here to University Park, your commonwealth is still your community. When I graduate, I’ll know the people that I started my Penn State career with, I’ll end it with.” (Justin Cortes-Senior, Hazleton)

It is that sense of community that makes students feel comfortable. Professors are able to know you by name, and care about your well being, because of the small campus setting.

“I missed a class, and my professor emailed me to make sure that I was okay. You don’t get that here.” (D.J. Ryan-Senior, Altoona, Greater Allegheny)

Your voice matters
Chances are that many of your club/organization leaders have attended a Commonwealth Campus.

“I was able to get involved at University Park because I was involved at my former campus. I was able to network because I already started the club at a commonwealth. That helped me transition.” (Santwon Hines-Senior, Greater Allegheny)

Commonwealth students also have a better opportunity to get to know their chancellor, whereas, many students may never get the chance to meet Rodney Erickson.

“Our chancellor was very hands on. He helped us with move in day and would help students carry their stuff to their rooms. That’s an example of the community that’s built at a commonwealth.” (Justin Cortes-Senior, Hazleton).

Penn State truly is one campus that is geographically dispersed. Although we may not have all started at University Park, we are all Penn Staters. It is the foundation that I have from my Commonwealth Campus that helped me find my voice. I owe many of my successes as a student to my former campus.

About the Author


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