Three female students on a bench outdoors with Nittany Lion mascot leaning over them pointing to a book.

Creating connections: Hazleton offers students meaningful ways to get involved

Whether it's exploring interests, enhancing education, or just making new friends, student engagement comes in many meaningful forms at Penn State Hazleton.
By: Joe Dolinsky

Whether it's exploring interests, enhancing education, or just making new friends, student engagement comes in many meaningful forms at Penn State Hazleton. 

By offering a variety of ways to get involved, Penn State Hazleton helps students develop a sense of belonging and grow outside the classroom, said Director of Student Services and Engagement Tracy Garnick. 

“A culture of connectedness is critical to promoting student success,” Garnick said. “We encourage all our students to get involved early in their time at Penn State Hazleton so they can get the very most out of their college experience and make the campus a more vibrant place to live and learn.” 

Clubs and organizations 

With the aim of providing something for everyone, Penn State Hazleton has dozens of clubs and organizations where students can share common interests, further knowledge of their degree program, boost their résumé, learn about different cultures and become leaders on campus. 

Options include major-related groups like the Business Club, Science and Engineering Club, Medical Laboratory Technology Club, and Psychology Club, in addition to professional honors societies like Gamma Beta Phi and Alpha Sigma Lambda. 

Other clubs and organizations are interest-focused, such as the Game Club, Swim and Water Polo Club, Maker Space Club, Influencers Club, Outdoor and Leisure Club and Volleyball Club, or cultural, like the Black Student Union, LatinX Heritage Club, Hillel and Women’s Empowerment Club. 

Students seeking leadership roles can find a place in the Student Government Association, Lion Ambassadors, Campus Activities Board or Residence Hall Association, or be part of one of Penn State’s marquee student experiences by joining the campus’ THON chapter. Penn State Hazleton Benefitting THON raises money for children and families battling pediatric cancer throughout the academic year and sends multiple dancers to represent the campus every year at the 46-hour dance marathon. 

Students can also leave their mark by creating a new club or organization, like the founders of the Multicultural Club.  

First-year engineering major Shakira Akhter helped launch the club in fall 2023. With nearly 30 members, it quickly found a following on campus. 

“When the idea [for the club] was fully laid out, I saw great interest from students from all types of backgrounds,” Akhter said. “This made it super easy for the club to gain its initial success.” 

Though starting a club while juggling the responsibilities of being a student may seem intimidating, the results outweigh everything else, Akhter said. 

“It’s very empowering to be able to start a club that you’re passionate about,” she said. 

The club’s formation came on the heels of the grand opening of the campus’ new Center for Multicultural Engagement, a space created for students to discover different cultures and figure out more about themselves,” Garnick said.  

“The Center plays a vital role in nurturing the intellectual and emotional development of students and their communities, as well as fostering multicultural engagement and a sense of belonging,” she said. "Through activities like art shows, talks from interesting speakers, cultural programming, and movie nights, the Center provides an environment for personal and social growth, empowering students to become thoughtful and engaged global citizens.” 

Undergraduate research 

Like its clubs and organizations, Penn State Hazleton has enjoyed a successful history providing students with undergraduate research opportunities.  

Morgan Dwyer was among the students to take advantage of the opportunity for the 2023-24 academic year. A pharmacology and toxicology major from Hazleton, she began conducting research with Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Schall during the fall semester, Dwyer’s first on campus. Together, they are exploring how molecular genetics can be used to identify organisms collected from a system with an invasive species. 

Methods like DNA and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) extraction are among the hands-on skills Dwyer is learning while working with Schall in the campus’ molecular genetics research laboratory, an experience that is already shaping Dwyer’s future. 

“Being able to get hands-on experience in a lab setting has been eye-opening and has made me consider a career in research labs,” Dwyer said. “The deeper understanding I have gained of lab protocols and the subject of molecular genetics will help me in future classes and has been really motivating in general.” 

Mary Walter, a first-year student who hopes to become an agricultural educator, has had similar experiences in her two semesters working with Schall. Going into her first year on campus, she made it a personal goal to get out of her comfort zone and try something new, she said. 

“I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this research experience, but Dr. Schall made both the procedures and material easy to understand,” Walter said. “After training us, Dr. Schall lets us carry out lab work independently and is always there to answer any questions. It truly feels like I am contributing to a greater cause and that my work really matters.” 

Schall, who studies the potential impact of invasive Flathead Catfish on the Susquehanna River, typically takes on several students each semester as undergraduate researchers, including six this spring. Dwyer and Walter are in their second semesters working with Schall. Four are new to the experience. 

“They are an awesome group of students and I have been very impressed with their dedication to their research and passion for learning,” Schall said. 

In addition to Schall, faculty members working with students during the spring semester include Associate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology Nargess Tahmasbi, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Eshani Lee, Associate Professor of Engineering Joseph Ranalli, and Lecturer in Health Policy and Administration Beth Greenberg.  

Connecting with the chancellor 

Since being named chancellor in 2022 after a more than 20-year career at Penn State Hazleton, Elizabeth J. Wright has prioritized student engagement. 

Wright, whose master's and doctoral degrees are in English language and literature, launched the Chancellor’s Book Club in 2023 alongside Director of Student Services and Engagement Tracy Garnick. The club selects a book to read together each semester, then travels to New York City to see it performed on Broadway. The book, ticket to the performance and travel are all provided to students for free. 

“To know that Chancellor Wright takes time out of her day to get to know students makes the students feel more connected to the school and the environment of Penn State Hazleton,” said Sophia Del Vacchio, a first-year criminal justice major from Virginia and member of the book club. 

Another club member, first-year engineering major Lily Whipple, said she also joined because of Wright – and to get back into reading more. 

“Chancellor Wright has a wonderful personality and a way about her that encourages you and makes you feel comfortable,” Whipple said. “I’ve found that this club has given me a safe space to express my analysis and ideas and have open conversations with others.” 

To further engage students, the Chancellor and Student Services and Engagement offices also hold “Commuter Pit Stops” throughout the semester, giving commuter students an opportunity to sit down and get to know Wright over food and conversation. 

Additionally, through her Instagram account, Wright gives students a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to lead a college campus.  

“At Penn State Hazleton, our students are at the center of all we do,” Wright said. “Our faculty and staff make it a point to really get to know our students and make those personal connections so students can feel a sense of pride, belonging and care as they pursue their college education.” 

Off-campus opportunities 

In addition to opportunities on campus, Penn State Hazleton students can also get engaged in other communities.  

One such chance came during spring break, when a group of students traveled to Montreal, Canada, for alternative spring break. 

Stops included La Grande Roue de Montreal, the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal and a walking tour of “old Montreal.” 

On the second leg of the trip, the group will make a stop in Quebec City. 

Associate Director of Student Services and Engagement Kellina Yarrish said opportunities like these allow students to immerse themselves in a culture other than their own. 

“When you travel, you learn so much and see how others live within their own cultures,” Yarrish said. “We’re excited this group will get to see someplace beautiful and make great memories with their friends.”