Angel Bailey graduated from high school at age 16, and now at age 18, she will be graduating from college — with an associate degree in business she earned online.
Bailey, who will graduate this weekend, is the youngest grad among the almost 1,500 Penn State World Campus students who will receive their diplomas during Penn State’s spring 2021 commencement exercises.
The keys to her success: determination and discipline, she said.
“I work on a very strict schedule in order to balance school, work, and health, but I do, I truly love to learn, so determination really drives that discipline that offsets me from most people my age and keeps me going,” said Bailey, who lives in Dallas, Texas. “This program works perfect because it allows me to work around my schedule and traveling while also getting a great education.”
Here are some facts and anecdotes about Penn State World Campus’ spring graduates of the Class of 2021.
The big picture
The number of Penn State World Campus students who are graduating is 1,484. Of this total, 693 will receive graduate degrees, 704 will receive bachelor’s degrees, and 87 will receive their associate degrees.
The students hail from across the country and globe — 48 states are represented, as are the District of Columbia and 18 countries, including Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Peru, and more.
251 graduates are active-duty service members, veterans, reservists, in the National Guard, or military spouses.
104 graduates who are getting their master's degrees have already earned a bachelor's degree at a Penn State campus.
56 students are already Penn State World Campus alumni earning another degree online.
First ecosystem management graduate
The first recipient of the Master of Professional Studies in Ecosystem Management and Administration is Audrey Russin, of York County, Pennsylvania. This program opened in 2019.
Russin, 34, graduated in 2011 from Penn State, where she played alto saxophone in the Blue Band and majored in agricultural science. She originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but an internship with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, a Delaware nonprofit focused on bird rehabilitation, made her more interested in wildlife conservation.
Russin enrolled in her first ecosystem management class in 2018, and since August, she has been doing her capstone project, working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to complete their osprey recovery program.
Russin’s work involved reviewing decades’ worth of data on the state’s osprey population to document the bird’s rebound in the state. In the 1980s, there were fewer than 15 nesting pairs of ospreys in the state, and as of 2020, there were 134 pairs, and the birds have been removed from the endangered and threatened lists.
“I’ve learned so much,” Russin said. “I’m putting everything I’m learning in my classes to work in my paper.”
First marketing analytics graduates
Another program that has reached the milestone of seeing its first graduates this spring is the Master's in Marketing Analytics and Insights.
Cody Brutlag, the marketing director for a not-for-profit health system in California, is one of the graduates.
He said he’d always considered earning a master’s degree but let his busy life and career deter him. Five of his coworkers decided to go back to school, and that was Brutlag's catalyst to make his own educational goals a priority, he said.
After researching his options, Brutlag decided the online program was exactly what he was looking for.
“I felt it would make me a stronger marketer, help me think more strategically, and most importantly, teach me the data analysis process that would help me derive solid, data-driven insights for my organization,” said Brutlag. “Having entered the marketing field on the creative and content development side, I was certainly not a 'numbers' guy. This program was exactly what I needed to become one.”
Smart Track to Success
Another type of program, Smart Track to Success, is celebrating its first graduates. The program was created in 2017, and it’s designed to provide extra support for first-time online learners or those who are returning to school after many years.
Smart Track offers scholarship support, a two-semester course on academic and life skills, mentoring from peers and faculty, and assistance in becoming an engaged member of the World Campus community.
Amanda Christ, one of the first four Smart Track students who will earn their Penn State degrees, said the financial and mentoring support were critical for her success.
“They designed the program very thoroughly,” she said. “It really set me up that if I had a question, I had a resource to find the answer. Having the ability to ask someone a question in the spur of the moment — it helped me feel so much better knowing I had a resource on the other end of the phone.”
Liberal Arts student marshals
Several Penn State World Campus students have been named student marshals for their degree programs in the College of the Liberal Arts. The honor recognizes students with the highest grade-point averages of their peers.
Sam Kraus has been named the student marshal for the Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership program.
Kraus lives and works full-time in Barcelona, Spain, and he plans to continue his career specializing in customer success and working in tech start-ups after graduation.
Kristin Cady is the student marshal for the Bachelor of Science in Integrated Social Sciences program.
While a student, Cady continued to work as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic and volunteered with Not One More of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization supporting people with substance use disorders.
Following graduation, she plans to work in a local recovery center before applying to the physician assistant program at the Penn State College of Medicine.
Student marshal with three Penn State bachelor’s degrees
When Jenna Brooks graduates, she will have accumulated three Penn State bachelor’s degrees.
Brooks, 24, first received a Bachelor of Arts in International Politics, with a minor in history, in fall 2018. She decided to re-enroll in 2020 to advance her history minor into a bachelor’s degree.
The Bachelor of Arts in History is one of the two degrees she will receive this weekend. The other is a bachelor’s in African studies through the Department of African Studies at Penn State’s University Park campus.
Brooks said that when she was taking an African studies course, she learned from a professor she could receive a major in that field. This major is not offered online through Penn State World Campus, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the courses from this program were offered online or synchronously through Zoom, which allowed Brooks to complete them without enrolling at the University Park campus.
Brooks has received two academic honors.
She was named the Department of African Studies’ student marshal.
She also received the Margaret Bixler Kolpak Memorial Award from the Penn State Department of History, a first for a Penn State World Campus student. The award honors an outstanding undergraduate woman majoring in history who has remarkable service to humanity.
“At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I didn’t intend to go for three bachelor’s degrees, but now I wouldn’t change my experience at Penn State for anything,” Brooks said. “I was able to explore areas that interested me through my course work, participate in internships and projects that I wouldn’t have dreamed of, and get to know professors who helped me gain valuable knowledge and understanding of various topics.
“I’m glad my time at Penn State didn’t come to an end in 2018 with the completion of my first degree, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been presented.”
After graduation, Brooks will participate in the AmeriCorps city program in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives. She is eyeing graduate school in 2022.
Congratulations to all graduates
As for Bailey, the 18-year-old from Dallas who is getting her associate degree, her post-graduation plans involve re-enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in Business in the fall.
She said her business course work has already helped her tremendously outside of the classroom.
“This degree has helped grow my financial literacy substantially, as well as my ability to understand the complexities behind operating a business and navigating corporate America,” said Bailey, who also manages several business ventures. “I am able to have detailed conversations with business owners about finances, marketing, and management on bigger scales. Overall, my education has helped build my authority within the workspace.”
Congratulations to everyone who is graduating this semester!
Find out more about learning online in one of the more than 150 degree programs offered through Penn State World Campus.