SEN grant helps Penn State Hazleton engineering student contribute to community

Student in Penn State sweatshirt standing in front of lake

Clayton Kimsal, a senior engineering student at Penn State Hazleton, used a Student Engagement Network Grant to help his community secure a $300,000 grant for work on a project to repair a roughly 120-year-old dam.

Credit: Joe Dolinsky

HAZLETON, Pa. — Penn State students pursuing a Student Engagement Network (SEN) grant are encouraged to think creatively about how the funding might positively impact themselves or their communities. 

Penn State Hazleton senior engineering major Clayton Kimsal accomplished both, gaining career experience and helping his hometown with a costly construction project by turning his $1,000 SEN grant into a $300,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

SEN grants of either $1,000 or $2,000 are awarded to students like Kimsal to support engagement experiences like undergraduate research, professional and organizational experiences, creative accomplishments, volunteerism, study abroad/study away, peer mentoring and more. Undergraduate students at all campuses are eligible to apply.  

Kimsal saw the SEN grant as an opportunity to contribute to an effort by his hometown of Penn Lake Park near White Haven to repair a dam in the borough that was deemed deficient in early 2020. 

Due to the potential risk to homes downstream, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) instructed the borough to fix the roughly 120-year-old dam’s deficiencies — a cost estimated at around $3 million. 

“The culture growing up at Penn Lake Park shaped me into the person I am today, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” Kimsal said. 

Kimsal applied for the SEN grant in fall 2020. He then joined the borough’s dam advisory group, where he used the grant to support the group in creating postcards, signs, and other materials that alerted residents about noteworthy developments, upcoming meetings, and a referendum about the dam project. 

Those efforts were part of the requirements needed to complete and submit the FEMA grant, explained Paul Rogan, Penn Lake Borough Council president and a member of the borough’s dam advisory group. 

“Our biggest expense in trying to get all this off the ground was citizen outreach,” Rogan said. “A big part of that was sending out mailers fairly routinely explaining what we were doing. Clayton’s grant funded most of that for us.” 

Kimsal added, “The SEN grant was important because we are a community group. At that time, we weren’t receiving funding, and everything we needed to do for the project, including applying for the FEMA grant, came out of our own pockets.” 

Obtaining the SEN grant was a stress-free process, Kimsal said. He had to obtain a letter of recommendation from the dam project leader, provide a budget explaining how the funding would be used, complete a noncredit module on Canvas, and attend sessions with a Penn State Engagement Coach. 

The end result was well worth the effort, he said. 

“My opinion on applying for a SEN grant is like any Penn State opportunity: Take advantage of it,” he said. “You can go through college and get your degree and that’s great, but you can bring more value to the experience if you get involved and do things like the SEN grant. It’s a great opportunity for students to do something they wouldn’t have the chance to do otherwise.” 

In addition to helping his community, Kimsal also gained valuable career experience by observing how engineers, project managers and other professionals from Penn Lake Park contributed to the effort, he said.  

That experience built on the academic success Kimsal has found at Penn State Hazleton. After transferring to the campus in fall 2020, he was named to the dean’s list twice and was recently honored as Student of the Month for his dedication to tutoring his classmates in engineering and math. He held an engineering job at Henkel in West Hazleton and completed an internship this past summer at Rockwell Automation in Cleveland, Ohio. All this, he said, helped him secure a full-time job at ISG Inc., a consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia, after he graduates in spring 2022. 

"Clayton is a wonderful example of the success that can be achieved when students combine their classroom and co-curricular experiences,” said Elizabeth J. Wright, Penn State Hazleton director of academic affairs and associate dean for academic affairs in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses. 

Rob Knight, associate director of student services and engagement, added: “Clayton’s success is a testament to the importance of engagement and the meaningful and transformative impact engagement can have on a community.” 

Penn Lake Park secured a line of credit to cover the estimated cost of the dam project and continues to explore additional funding opportunities. Rogan said preliminary work is underway and the project could be completed within three to four years.  

In the meantime, Kimsal will be keeping a close eye on things from Atlanta, happy to have contributed. 

“What the SEN grant allowed me to do was step in productively to help my community,” he said. “I may not have been an integral part of the project, but I was able to make an impact and that’s something I’m really proud of.” 

The next SEN grant cycle opens in February for summer 2022 engagement experiences. Students must be registered for summer courses or registered for the fall 2022 semester to qualify. Additional information about the Student Engagement Network is available at