UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — First as a Penn State World Campus student and now as an alumnus, Chase Kelly has fully immersed himself in the University community.

As an undergraduate student, he traveled to State College multiple times a year, attended football games, served as president of the Blue & White Society, participated in the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, and was one of the first members of the World Campus Tech Club.

Since his graduation, he’s continued to show his Penn State pride by serving as a World Campus Alumni Ambassador and walking in the last four Homecoming parades.

“From the first class I took, when I started learning more about University Park and Penn State, the more I said ‘I’m going to do this right,’” said Kelly, who earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees online through the College of Information Sciences and Technology as a first-generation adult learner. “I wanted to get as much of the college experience as I could, because I didn’t when I was college-aged.”

He added, “I’ve been a Penn Stater ever since. Those experiences were so profound for someone who grew up without [knowing] anyone who went to college.”

Through those experiences, Kelly met a number of other online learners from a variety of fields. The connections he made, particularly in the Blue & White Society, helped to strengthen his identity as a Penn Stater — and, as an added benefit, made him a better student.

“It made all of us, regardless of [our majors], feel more connected not just to each other, but to the University,” he said. “We got really engrained in the Penn State community and culture, and it made us feel like we were true on-campus students.”

“Making new friends makes you feel better, so you’re going to perform better,” he added.

Perhaps one of the most unique ways that Kelly integrated himself into the campus community was through his virtual participation at HackPSU, an annual student-run 24-hour hackathon at Penn State. Kelly joined a team of on-campus students by operating a mobile-telepresence robot — an iPad attached to a two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicle — from his basement in Virginia.

“To be part of that big event in a virtual way was such a great experience,” said Kelly, noting his team earned an honorable mention in the competition.

For his success in the classroom and engagement across the University, Kelly was selected as the College of IST’s student marshal for the summer 2017 semester.

“It was an amazing honor,” he said. “I never dreamed of performing as well as I did, and the support from the IST staff and faculty was nothing short of phenomenal.”

IST skills impact foreign military training operations

From a young age, Kelly knew that he one day wanted to go to college. He knew that to get into a technological field, he’d need the education to back it up. So he joined the Navy, knowing the military would help pay for his college education.

“I became very duty-focused when I joined the military,” said Kelly.

As a leading petty officer, Kelly was responsible for training military and foreign naval personnel on missile systems. When his active duty ended a decade later, Kelly noted, the Navy utilized advanced electronics and weapons systems that were not as advanced as some emerging home technologies.

Kelly now continues to work in a similar role for Lockheed Martin, training foreign military allies’ sailors and officers on how to use and understand their ships’ weapon system components — the consoles and interfaces that allow the military to operate and launch missiles. He has trained the Australian, Japanese, and South Korean navies on maintaining, employing, and operating their ships so they can defend their countries and interact with coalition forces.

It was during this time that he earned his Penn State degrees. He said his IST education has helped him to more thoroughly understand the newest technologies developed for current and future ship systems, which allows him to train sailors on all aspects of their weapon systems to operate, deploy, and maintain their Navy Destroyers on the military’s advanced, tech-based computer systems.

“The first class I ever took after IST 110 got into actual media,” he said. “We learned about packages and packets and the old copper wire in DSL lines compared with today’s fiber optic lines. I didn’t realize how they do what they do. IST helped me to understand the more detailed technology that I wanted to learn but didn’t know based on my old Navy training.”

He added, “Once I chose IST, I realized very quickly that it was absolutely the best choice. It taught me the basis of how business and organizations can benefit from every aspect of tech.”

Benefiting from flexibility and building connections

Though he was no longer active duty, Kelly sometimes had to go on short-notice, unscheduled training missions to the other side of the globe. Penn State World Campus offered him the flexibility to complete his schooling no matter where he was in the world.

Once, he recalled, he got a call on a Wednesday for a mission in Australia that weekend. He notified his professor and promised to have his assignment finished by the end of the weekend. The instructor immediately responded and told him he could have until the following week.

“They always appreciated and treated me like active military, even though I wasn’t,” said Kelly. “That speaks bounds of the quality of faculty and staff I encountered as an online learner. They were all very supportive. That kind of interaction really stuck with me.”

He built a special connection with one of those faculty members, associate professor of IST Fred Fonseca, who Kelly said went out of his way to help students succeed in his online classes. When Kelly traveled to University Park to receive his associate degree, he contacted Fonseca and asked if he could meet him in person. While Fonseca was not able to be at the commencement ceremony, he met Kelly after hours on the Saturday after graduation.

“He gave me a personal tour of the building,” he said. “That was really awesome.”

Kelly was honored to be able to wear his cap and gown and walk during the commencement ceremony to earn his associate degree — the first degree in his family.

“It doesn’t matter what degree it is, you’re a Penn Stater,” he said.

When it came time to finish his bachelor’s degree, Kelly was on a mission in Australia. He got permission to leave that assignment early to come back to State College and walk in the commencement ceremony — along with friends he made through the Blue & White Society.

“We’re all cherishing the Penn State experience, not just for the education but to be part of the school,” he said. “To honor our alma mater — something I never thought I’d say that I have.” 

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