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Herstek family and New Kensington campus make good neighbors

Ruth Herstek prepared to receive her bachelor's degree as her three daughters, front row center, led the cheers.
Ruth Herstek prepared to receive her bachelor's degree as her three daughters, front row center, led the cheers.
1/3/2012 —


Earned Penn State Degree in December
Three Daughters to Follow

When Ruth Herstek heads to her backyard for family get-togethers Penn State New Kensington is always on her mind. And it’s no wonder. She works at the campus. She just graduated from the campus. And she lives next door.

Herstek, administrative support assistant to the director of Academic Affairs, lives in Upper Burrell, in the shadow of campus. Her yard abuts the Penn State property line.

“I can see the campus from my house and at certain areas of the University, my house from campus,” said Herstek, who began as a part-time staff member in the Continuing Education office. “Walking to the gym, I often hear my dog barking.”

The campus and the Herstek family are intertwined on many levels, especially academically. Herstek received her bachelor’s degree Dec. 17 at the campus’ fall commencement ceremony. Her three daughters, Julie, Jenna and Jamie, are current Penn State students, each at a different stage of their collegiate studies.

“I am proud that my daughters started at the New Kensington campus, which provides a quality, caring learning environment,” said Herstek, who graduated with high distinction. “I feel honored to be a Penn State graduate.”

Seven years ago, inspired by her mother, Elizabeth McClusky, who earned a teaching degree at the age of 50, and with the support of her husband, Ron, Herstek decided to enroll as an adult learner. By juggling office duties, classes and family responsibilities, she earned an associate degree in liberal arts in 2008.

“Work and school have been a great experience for me,” said Herstek, who was a perennial member of the Dean’s List. “But sometimes it feels like I never leave the ‘hill’ since I’m in walking distance.”

After securing a two-year degree, Herstek continued her academic pursuits in organizational leadership, a bachelor’s degree program that is designed for adults with family and career obligations. She improved her communication and writing skills and learned to develop and implement new programs that served her well in her position of working with faculty.

“I’ve learned many new concepts that I brought back to my job,” said Herstek, who earned induction into two student honor societies -- Phi Thetea Kappa and Alpha Sigma Lambda. “I’ve grown so much over the last seven years by challenging myself each semester.”

Herstek’s experiences helped pave the way for her children to matriculate the campus. According to Jenna, “mom made Penn State New Kensington a great place for us to go and her being here makes it even better.”

Julie, the oldest daughter, attended the campus for two years and is nearing completion of her undergraduate studies in psychology at the University Park campus. She graduates in May 2012 and plans to get a master’s degree. While at the New Kensington campus, she had a statistics class with her mother.

“It worked out well because she sat in the front and I sat in the back,” Julie said with a laugh. “It was a good experience and we helped each other.”

The middle daughter, Jenna, is a sophomore corporate communications major. She has decided to stay at the campus to finish her bachelor’s degree work and will graduate in 2014.

“You get a good college experience here,” said Jenna, who like her mother is on the Dean’s List. “I like the small classes and the professors are great.”

Jamie is a senior at Burrell High School and participates in the campus’ dual enrollment program that offers high school students the opportunity to earn college credits. She received three credits for the fall semester and will take three credits in the spring before enrolling fulltime in September in the four-year psychology program.

“Penn State is a great university and the New Kensington campus is perfect for me,” Jamie said. “It is close to home and it has my major. And my sisters liked going here.”

Over the next five years, the third generation of Hersteks will graduate and swell the family’s bachelor’s degree holdings to five. Julie has the inside track on the family’s first master’s degree but she may have competition from mom. Ruth is looking at graduate school, specifically, Penn State’s master’s program in Adult Education. The program is geared to students who want to teach adults and plan learning experiences. As an adult learner, Ruth sees the program as a chance for her to assist others at the New Kensington campus.

“Adult learners need an advocate to help them navigate all aspects of returning to college,’ said Herstek. “I would like to be able get them support and lead them to the resources that are available for them.”

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