For Penn State World Campus student Brandie Laughner, returning to school was part lifelong dream and part necessity. She said making it to her senior year was the result of sheer determination and unwavering support from her family.
“I kept putting it off until finally my husband, Daniel, and I were in a financial situation where we knew we couldn’t make the money we needed to provide for our family,” said Laughner, a student in the labor and human relations program offered online. “I was nervous about how I would do in school, but this was the time to start.”
Laughner, of North East, Pennsylvania, needn’t have worried — she has been named the 2021 Outstanding Senior Award recipient from the Penn State School of Labor and Employment Relations, which offers the program online through Penn State World Campus. This award is given annually to a senior who has compiled an outstanding record in both academics and engagement in student activities.
Through Penn State World Campus, Laughner is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Labor and Human Relations as well as a Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources and Employment Relations through an integrated undergraduate-graduate program. She is also earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Laughner will be finishing her undergraduate degrees this semester and then returning in the fall to work on her graduate degree.
Antone Aboud, director of the online programs in the school, noted, “All of the faculty who’ve had Brandie in class can attest to her hard work. We are thrilled that she will continue with us in the MPS program.”
Laughner said she did a lot of research about online universities so she could continue to be at home with her children — Ayden, Adrienne, Marcus, and Evan — while getting her degree. Laughner explained that her brother-in-law had attended Penn State University Park in the 2000s but didn’t complete his degree at that time. He re-enrolled at Penn State Behrend and highly recommended that Laughner consider Penn State online.
“Being a Penn Stater comes with a long list of benefits,” said Laughner. “I don’t think I would’ve had the opportunity to be involved or collaborate with my fellow students and faculty as much anywhere else.”
Laughner is a founding member of the first-ever virtual chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (VLERA). Aboud suggested the idea of a virtual chapter of LERA. Laughner and a small committee of other volunteer students helped to organize it. She has served as the chapter’s secretary and is currently the vice president.
“I didn’t realize how quickly VLERA would grow and how much interest was there in a virtual chapter,” Laughner said. "I feel very passionate about making sure not only people within the LER field have access to a virtual platform, but also making sure that students have something we could focus on outside of our school work that would also give us an idea of what it would be like to work in the field.”
Laughner said her favorite parts of VLERA are the webinars hosted by the chapter and how they offer new perspectives from the presenters on both the labor and management sides.
“It’s great to be able to have such diverse interactions and better understanding of how that diversity can benefit our field,” she said.
Aboud added, “Brandie has been a guiding light throughout all of our efforts first to establish and then promote our chapter. She’s also performed spectacularly in facilitating discussions based on presenters’ content during our chapter meetings.”
During the last few years, Laughner has also been a World Campus Ambassador and World Campus Student Mentor. She works with prospective students and shares her experiences and challenges of being a World Campus student. She is also a member of the Society for Human Resource Management/Society of Labor and Employment Relations (SHRM/SLER) club.
Laughner’s academic recognition also includes making Dean’s List all semesters except one; she was also awarded the President’s Award during her first year. Laughner is also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society.
As she nears the end of her academic career, Laughner said she hopes to enter the field in an HR position, but is also open to labor-related positions. She would then like to work her way up into management and potentially become an HR director. Her long-term goals include opening her own HR consulting firm.
“I don’t know how I managed to do it sometimes,” she admitted. “My husband and I are always amazed how we’ve made it this far. We had another baby while I was in school. Then the pandemic and everything that brought… I even had COVID and had to pause school for a few weeks. It’s been nonstop.”
Laughner added, “I can’t thank my family enough for their support. And one other thing that really kept me going was that I wanted this degree, this opportunity, for so long. If you want it badly enough, you’re going to work for it, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Find out more about the labor and employment relations programs offered online through Penn State World Campus.