UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When she’s not on the ice, championship-winning ice dancer and 2022 Olympic hopeful Kaitlin Hawayek is online, earning her bachelor’s degree through Penn State World Campus. 

With less than a year away from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Hawayek and her partner are training to qualify as one of Team USA’s main competitors. The pair served as Team USA alternates at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. 

“Every competition a year and a half out from Olympic selections is considered when deciding the Olympic team,” said Hawayek. “As of now, we've been established as one of the top three teams, so if we continue on this track, the selection should be pretty clear in terms of being selected for the team.” 

Hawayek, 24, began ice skating as a toddler in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. She said she immediately loved the sport, but it wasn’t until middle school that skating became her focus. 

Due to frequent travel and long hours of practice and competitions, Hawayek began part-time virtual learning in middle school and moved to full-time online learning in high school.  

Kaitlin Hawayek and partner, Jean-Luc Baker.

At the start of her college career, Hawayek decided to take online courses at a traditional university. But after completing all of the online courses available for her major, Hawayek said she knew she needed a fully online option. That’s how she found Penn State World Campus. 

One of Hawayek’s brothers is a student at Penn State University Park and recommended she look into Penn State World Campus. Hawayek took his advice and soon after enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology program for the fall 2018 semester. 

“I’ve touched on every single possible way that one could learn, and that’s given me a greater appreciation for the flexibility of learning and being able to continue your education, regardless of the circumstances,” said Hawayek. 

Because Hawayek is still in the midst of her competitive career, she said, she doesn’t have a strict graduation timeline and is completing her courses as she can. She said that strategically planning her courses around her competition and travel schedule has helped her balance the two commitments. 

“I realize it’s been a slow progression, but it’s still very important to me to continue my education,” said Hawayek, who takes 12–15 credits a year. “School provides balance outside of ice skating, so I'm not completely tunnel-visioned and focused on one thing.” 

Hawayek said she’s always had an interest in psychology, specifically neuroscience, and is confident that the subject will be helpful to her in a career on and off the ice. 

“It’s very hard to predict just what opportunities will arise after my competitive career, but one thing that I do know is that having a psychology degree, regardless of what avenue I continue to be involved with skating in, is only going to help me,” said Hawayek. 

Even though Hawayek had prior experiences in online education, she said the flexibility of her Penn State World Campus courses and the support and understanding she receives from faculty is unlike anything she’s had at previous institutions. 

“It's been a wonderful experience because I've found such an ease and a peace of mind at Penn State World Campus,” said Hawayek. “I never have to worry about whether or not I'll be able to find the class that meets my schedule, and in the courses that I do choose, I've had nothing but incredible experiences with the professors being super understanding and excited to support my skating career.” 

In 2019, Hawayek visited the University Park campus for the first time and said she felt an overwhelming sense of community. 

“It's really nice to have that level of kind of identity in my education because I've never experienced that before,” said Hawayek. “Education was always something that I pursued, but I felt like a lone wolf always doing things online, but Penn State World Campus has kind of given me a community to connect with.”

Photo credit: Jay Adeff/US Figure Skating