College is a time for students to spread their wings, try new things and challenge themselves both inside and outside the classroom. But it’s also a stressful time when many students—especially first-year students—have trouble adjusting to all the changes and find themselves unsure how to advocate for themselves and make the most of their college experience.
That’s why Penn State alumni Jeff (’74 B.Arch.) and Debra (’74 B.S. H&HD) Morgan established the Morgan Endowment for Student Success in the College of Arts and Architecture, intended to fund programs to support student counseling and advisor training.
The Morgans were motivated to establish the endowment after numerous conversations with parents and with students who were struggling to adjust to the rigors and expectations of the college environment. “We wanted to contribute to a solution,” said Jeff.
With the support of the Morgans’ endowment, the College of Arts and Architecture has initiated a variety of events both to help new students and support current undergraduates who are struggling with “college life.” In August, the college hosted its first welcome program, which was open to all its incoming undergraduates and included activities focused on wellness, mindfulness, leadership and team-building. As part of a mindful art session, for example, students wrote a letter to themselves about their hopes, fears and goals. The letters were collected and will be shared with the students at the end of the year.
Kyrie Harding, advising manager for the college, said she values the opportunity to connect with first-year students early in their Penn State journey. “It has been amazing to get to know our incoming first-year students on a different level and to form connections before their first semester even began. Our hope is that we continue to build those connections and the support networks around our students so that should they face adversity, they also will know that there are resources and people that want to help. We are grateful to the Morgans for supporting those resources.”
Harding is part of the College of Arts and Architecture’s “student success” team, which includes Margaret Higgins, academic advisor; Kendall Mainzer, engagement and career coordinator; Curt Marshall, multicultural affairs coordinator; and Kelly Praskovich, recruitment manager. The college-level advisors work with faculty and staff in the academic units who also provide advising services.
The Morgans point out that college students, despite being legal adults, don’t always know how to handle adversity on their own, and should not necessarily be expected to have appropriate coping skills. “They may be 18, but they still have a lot of maturing to do,” Jeff said. “We want our endowment to be used to train both advisors and faculty to be able to identify when students are having problems, and what to do when they see problems.”
Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), part of Student Affairs, offers a wide variety of services for students, from a 24/7 crisis line to wellness workshops to group and individual counseling. The Morgans want College of Arts and Architecture students to have resources within the college available to them, before they reach crisis-mode.
“The College of Arts and Architecture is special—small but very diverse. Many students in this college think differently than students in business, engineering and other fields,” said Jeff. “This endowment is an opportunity to create a program unique to the College of Arts and Architecture that is proactive, both in terms of resources and building an awareness among faculty and administrators about reading the signs of distress, and how to support a student in a successful resolution.”
The Morgans said they hope the programs funded by their endowment serve as a model for other academic colleges at Penn State. “There is such a need for this,” said Jeff. “I think there are financial resources out there and if we develop something in Arts and Architecture with definition, that is marketable and that has measurable success, we will inspire other colleges to institute similar programs. We don’t want to just accept that there is a problem—we want to be part of the solution.”
In addition to the student support services being funded by the Morgan Endowment, the College of Arts and Architecture has also launched programs to help students prepare for internships and job searches. The college recently completed its first Professional Opportunities Week (POW), which included workshops and discussions—on topics ranging from portfolios to networking—intended to help students obtain internships and jobs. It was held in conjunction with the University’s Fall 2019 Career Days.
For more information on all of the college’s student success initiatives, visit arts.psu.edu/thrive.
IMAGE: Before classes started, a group of first-year students in the College of Arts and Architecture visited Shaver's Creek, where they participated in leadership and team-building activities.