As a senior entering my final semester at Penn State, my concern is, understandably, I hope, self-interested. My worries center around my own future, and I question myself if the incidents of the past nine months will impact my ability to obtain interviews and ultimately a full-time position after I graduate. Up until the past few weeks, I have had the title "Paterno Fellow" on my resume right under The Pennsylvania State University, B.A. English and French, Schreyer Honors College, three elements of my student character that I say with pride. I hadn't realized until very recently that my association with the Paterno Fellows program could become something of an issue as I apply for full-time jobs this fall. Just the other day my mother texted me, "You should take Paterno Fellow off your [email] signature for a bit....Many will question it." As disturbed as I was by this comment, I believe it was sound advice. For now.
In removing Paterno Fellows from my resume and email signature, I felt torn between two feelings - fear and pride. I feared what potential employers might think when they see the "Paterno Fellow" line on my resume, but I am enormously proud of what I've accomplished through the program. One such achievement includes the research position I held this summer for a non-profit organization in New Canaan, Connecticut, called Voices of September 11th. I applied by writing a simple email inquiry with my resume attached back in December of 2011, asking if any internship positions were available for summer 2012. There was no cover letter or writing sample attached with it. This inquiry led to a phone interview with my current boss, Frank, in which we briefly discussed my involvement within several organizations on campus and previous job experience. His final question involved Paterno Fellows. "I see you are a Paterno Fellow here. That looks impressive. Mind telling me what that's all about?" Fifteen minutes later I was hired.
As Fellows, we know the quality of the program for which we have worked so hard throughout our college careers. For some students, myself included, gaining access to the Schreyer Honors College first became a real possibility because of the Paterno Fellows Program. In becoming a Scholar, I have set out to do exactly what the Paterno Fellows program encourages: to enrich my Penn State experience by integrating my classroom education with advanced external opportunities. My upper level honors courses in English and French have deepened my relationships with faculty in my departments. Studying abroad and declaring a second major - choices I made in order to become a Fellow - have influenced my education and character in ways I would never have imagined. I have received priority scheduling every semester since my acceptance so that I can register for classes that further my personal and professional goals. Even beyond the $4,500 I have received to date through the program to relieve out-of-pocket expenses for traveling and internships, my educational experience as a Fellow has made all the difference in my college career.
My apprehension about the title of the program is, again, fundamentally selfish. In any other context, most non-Penn Staters right now see the name Paterno and do not think of the values of discipline, hard work, ethical leadership and academic excellence for which the program was created. Will they do the same when I advertise to potential employers that I am a part of an academic program named after Joe Paterno?
I am also concerned about incoming classes and the freshmen and sophomores who are currently aspiring to be Fellows. Just the other day I had a friend question whether she should continue aspiring and whether or not it "was all worth it." I hope that she continues to pursue the Paterno Fellows program, because regardless of the title, the program sets Liberal Arts students up for success. It motivates us to do more and to want to do more during our time here. It makes us realize that the power of education can be multifaceted, and that enrichment of all kinds is most certainly accessible right here on campus. I only hope that the rest of the world gives students in the Paterno Liberal Arts Undergraduate Fellows Program a chance to explain that rather than flipping to the next resume as soon as they read the name Paterno.
For now, "Paterno Fellow" stays off my resume. I have made this choice because the current situation is so uncertain. The turmoil is ever-changing, unfortunately. I cannot predict what will happen this semester or by the end of this year, and I do not believe that I need to make a personal sacrifice and risk missing an opportunity because an opinionated recruiter reads that name and dismisses my education and my association with Penn State. I have acknowledged that unfortunately, those people do exist, and I will do my best to educate them and defend the education I received at Penn State. I can defend the Fellows program created for Liberal Arts students, but as wonderful as the program is, I cannot defend its current name.