UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Adalice Burgos gets her associate degree from Penn State this weekend, she will feel almost fearless about the future, she said.

And when Aaron Spak receives his Master of Business Administration degree, the accomplishment will be the culmination of years of balancing his job, family, and school work to fulfill his own personal goal.

Burgos and Spak will share stories about their education journeys at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration on Friday, December 20, an event for graduating students and their families at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Their speeches will be streamed through Facebook Live starting about 6:30 p.m.

“The sense of accomplishment means having the feeling of ‘I did it,’ and it’s something that I know, moving forward, I will continue to appreciate,” Burgos said. “I feel confident and fearless moving forward with other goals.”

Burgos, 38, works in information technology for Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center as an intermediate computer operator. She said the disappointment from missing out on a job is what motivated her to pursue her college education and advance her career.

She worked in a salon for eight years before getting a certificate that enabled her to break into the IT field. She eventually came to work for the hospital and was excited to contend for a job that came with better working hours.

She said she put everything she had into that interview, but the hiring manager said she didn’t have the education.

“I never wanted to feel inadequate in sharing my thoughts and opinions within a job, and I wanted to feel confident about my education,” Burgos said.

Burgos started working toward her associate degree in information science and technology in 2015. During her time as a World Campus student, she attended the 2018 and 2019 Student Leadership Conferences.

Spak, who works for Penn State’s Applied Research Lab, is graduating with an MBA and a concentration in supply chain management. In his job, he leads the applied enterprise systems department, which supports the Department of Defense’s use of enterprise software systems.

He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and an MBA was on his to-do list for some time.

“From a customer perspective, it has directly led to me being able to speak confidently about their business as opposed to just technology,” said Spak, 42. “It’s been a great capstone experience to bring everything together with a tech foundation.”

He spoke highly of his experience. He said the capstone course in global strategic management helped him write a strategic plan for his department.

He’ll be attending the Graduation Celebration on Friday and the commencement on Saturday with his wife and four children. He said that over the past two-plus years, his wife shouldered much of the household responsibilities as he worked before the kids woke up, after they went to bed, during lunch time, and whenever he could spare the extra time.

He’s hoping to take everyone on a family vacation in 2020 to celebrate.

Aaron Spak on the floor, working at his computer, with his children
Aaron Spak is one of the speakers at the Fall 2019 Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration.
Jen Neal

As for Burgos, she will enroll in January to start on her bachelor’s degree in security risk and analysis. The goal is a law degree.

She said conquering her associate degree taught her the sky is the limit.

“I almost feel like this was the hardest thing to conquer,” Burgos said. “But once you do it, you know you can do whatever comes your way.”