Currents, Winter 2021


A collage of zoom sessions of various activities

Innovation takes center stage

Finding ways to keep teaching, learning, and supporting one another during challenging times

The Penn State Harrisburg community has embodied the “We Are” spirit during the coronavirus pandemic, coming together in new and innovative ways inside and outside of the classroom, on campus, and in the community. Here are a few examples:

A black and white photo from 1972, when the ceremony was cancelled after Hurricane Agnes

Commencement, Interrupted

A commencement ceremony is often one of the most memorable days in a person’s life, not to mention quite an undertaking to orchestrate. Rarely does anything stand in the way of this important event. But three times in the history of Penn State Harrisburg, the college has been forced, by historic events, to cancel the official in-person commencement ceremony.

Jessica Sheets

My road to commencement: Jessica Sheets

Jessica Sheets and her father, Ethan, have a lot in common. Both of their birthdays are in August, back-to-back in fact — hers Aug. 1, and his Aug. 2. They both grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania, both completed their studies at Penn State Harrisburg — and both had their commencement ceremonies preempted by historic events.



New programs meet workforce needs

Penn State Harrisburg continues to enhance its degree offerings to meet students’ interests and workforce demands. Here’s a look at the most recent additions to the portfolio of bachelor’s degree programs.

Couple pledges $7.3 million to create honors scholarships at Penn State

Penn State Harrisburg alumnus Steven Overly and his wife, Donna, have made a $7.3 million estate commitment to Penn State that will establish the Overly Scholars Program at Penn State Harrisburg and in the Schreyer Honors College, creating full-tuition scholarships and enhanced educational experiences for high-achieving students.

Penn State Harrisburg honors alumni achievement

The recipients of the college’s annual Alumni Achievement Awards include one graduate from each of the college’s five academic schools, who earned the accolade thanks to their outstanding professional accomplishments.

Penn State Harrisburg recognizes 'People to Watch'

The Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society announced the winners of its 2020 People to Watch Awards, graduates from each of the college’s schools who have made a significant contribution to the betterment of society through their personal and professional endeavors.

Alumni restaurateurs lend a hand

During the pandemic, Penn State has been doing what it can to support international students – including working with local organizations to coordinate help. This past summer, at Penn State Harrisburg, the efforts resulted in a group of local restaurant owners coming together to provide a little slice of home cooking, providing hundreds of meals to students at the Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center, Penn State Harrisburg, and Penn State York. 

Alum receives diversity award

The Penn State Alumni Association recently named Penn State Harrisburg alumnus Gibran Jones, ‘08, the recipient of the 2020 K. David Weidner Diversity Award. The award is presented to an individual who has significantly contributed to fostering diversity at Penn State by sharing or volunteering his or her talent, time, and resources on behalf of the University.

Capital Connections with Alumni

Beginning in May 2020, the college alumni office took its popular Capital Connections programming on the virtual road. Capital Connections at Home, a series of live and archived webinars for alumni and friends, allows viewers to experience Penn State Harrisburg from the comfort of home. The series, which will continue through 2021, features Penn State Harrisburg faculty, staff, and alumni experts on a broad range of topics.  


Reducing stigma surrounding substance abuse disorder

Researchers at Penn State Harrisburg’s Douglas W. Pollock Center for Addiction Outreach and Research have teamed with the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and state and national non-profit organizations to lead a statewide campaign to reduce the stigma associated with Opioid Use Disorder.

Rural attitudes on key policy issues

With support from the Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg, researchers, led by Daniel Mallinson, collaborated to survey the attitudes of rural Pennsylvanians and how these attitudes affect their perspectives on issues relevant to state and local government, policymakers, and other stakeholders. 

The dark side of organized labor

In 1949, International Ladies Garment Workers Union organizer William Lurye was stabbed to death in public by mob assassins. This event and its aftermath are at the center of “Murder in the Garment District: The Grip of Organized Crime and the Decline of Labor in the United States,” a new book by Catherine Rios, associate professor of humanities and communications, and David Witwer, professor of history and American studies. The book, named to The New York Times’ 2020 recommended summer reading list, delves into corruption, coercion and crime and its effects on American organized labor, as well as the country’s complicated relationship with organized labor.

Keeping water and energy secure

Water and energy systems do not typically come to mind as cyber hacker targets, but those systems are often most vulnerable to such attacks, according to Javad Khazaei, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State Harrisburg and affiliate professor of architectural engineering in the College of Engineering at Penn State University Park.

Finding sustainable answers to industrial pollution

Recent Penn State Harrisburg graduate students in environmental pollution control Rizki Prasetyaningtyas and Saskia Putri have spent time eating lots of bananas and oranges and collecting the peels. Their goal – to test whether fruit peels can be used to remove heavy metals from wastewater coming from textile mills.

COVID-19 impacts

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute for State and Regional Affairs (ISRA) at Penn State Harrisburg has been analyzing various impacts of the coronavirus and its effects on Pennsylvanians in an effort to help inform policy and decision makers in the ongoing strategic planning response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Pennsylvania.

Look at ISRA’s COVID-19 reporting


2019-20 Year In Review

Although the spring 2020 season came to an early end due to COVID-19, the 2019-20 athletic campaign was one of the most successful in Penn State Harrisburg history. Teams reached new heights and student-athletes earned a plethora of individual awards and honors. Filled with incredible highs, record-breaking performances, and historic resolve in the wake of unprecedented circumstances, the 2019-20 athletic season will be remembered for years to come. Visit the Athletics website.

Around the Campus

Take a look back at activities and scenes from 2019-2020, including:

  • Around Campus Gallery
  • Award-winning a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe, Nobuntu, performed the sounds of traditional and contemporary African music, ranging from folk tunes to Afro Jazz to Gospel. (2019)
  • Penn State Harrisburg welcomed several speakers to campus, including actor Sean Astin, who discussed mental health; member of the “Exonerated Five” Raymond Santana, who discussed social justice, and Hiroshima survivor Shigeko Sasamori, who shared her first-hand account as an atomic bomb survivor. (2019)
  • Penn State Harrisburg students joined others from the York and University Park campuses for an MLK Day of Service project with The Bridge, a community revitalization project in Harrisburg. The Bridge plans to convert a former high school into a sustainable “Eco-Village.” (2020)
  • The college community came together in early March to celebrate the men's basketball team, as they traveled to Baltimore, Md. to compete in the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament for the first time. (2020)
  • Springtime flowers on campus never disappoint. (2020)
  • The college community participated in “Mask Up or Pack Up,” a University integrated effort to remind faculty, staff and students of the importance of doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19. (2020)
  • When limited in-person courses resumed in fall 2020, a series of changes, including classroom setups and the use of new technologies, were implemented to support the health, safety, and well-being of students, faculty and staff. (2020)
  • Fall Move-In Day