A combined image: At left, a woman standing outside; at right, a woman sitting near the Lion Shrine.

Similar goals; different paths

Emma Sands and Abby Yatsko both graduated from the same high school and attended Penn State Wilkes-Barre after high school. After that, their paths diverged—but each will earn a degree from Penn State this year, Sands in business and Yatsko in accounting. Students who want to study business have options at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, including pursuing their bachelor’s degree here or transitioning to another campus after two years.
By: Goldie Van Horn
Two students take advantage of Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s choice of options toward a degree

Emma Sands and Abby Yatsko both graduated from Wyoming Area High School and attended Penn State Wilkes-Barre after high school. After that, their paths diverged—but each will earn a degree from Penn State this year, Sands in business and Yatsko in accounting.

Students who want to study business have options at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. They can earn a bachelor’s degree like the one Sands is pursuing, or they can complete their first two years of coursework in one of Penn State’s 275 majors at Penn State Wilkes-Barre before transitioning to University Park, like Yatsko has done (the 2+2 Plan).

“A Penn State education is not one size fits all. It would be easy to take two academically exceptional students with a shared high school experience and similar career goals and chart them on an identical course to graduation. Penn State offers more than that,” said Assistant Teaching Professor Erin Brennan, who served as Yatsko’s adviser and is also Sands’ adviser. “Each student can explore and discover the path that works best for them at the campus that works best for them. This freedom allows students to accomplish the important work of learning about themselves while they simultaneously learn about their course of study.”

From Penn State Wilkes-Barre to University Park and back again

Sands initially wanted to follow the 2+2 Plan. She completed her first two years at Penn State Wilkes-Barre as planned and transitioned to University Park, but then decided that Penn State Wilkes-Barre was a better fit for her and returned to the local campus.

“I didn’t love how big some of my classes were and it was hard for me to get involved. There were so many people in each club that it was hard to get my foot in the door. I also didn’t enjoy living in a residence hall, plus tuition is a lot less at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. It was definitely a good choice for me to come back because I can get the same degree here while still living at home and saving money,” Sands said. “I really like the small campus feel at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. I’m able to connect with my professors and others here very well. It’s so easy to talk to them and find time to meet with them when I need to. I also like to be involved, and it’s really easy to do that here.”

Since returning to campus, Sands has been able to continue the campus involvement she enjoys. She is a member of the Veterans Support Club and the 4 Seasons Club and president of the Student Government Association (SGA). As part of SGA, Sands attended the annual Summer Leadership Conference (SLC), a three-day professional development experience held at Penn State Behrend this summer, where she was able to meet peers from other campuses and learn important skills necessary in leadership. She also helped plan Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s annual Leadership and Athletics Awards ceremony and the campus’ winter formal.

“As president of SGA, I’ve been able to participate in CCSG (Council of Commonwealth Student Governments), which represents all the Commonwealth Campuses. I’ve been able to create resolutions that have impacted students across the university,” Sands said. “I sponsored a resolution about OER (open educational resources) that said that classes with free textbooks would be listed that way in LionPath. It’s really helpful for students to know they won’t have to buy any extra textbooks for a class.”

Sands is currently interning at Benco Dental in the tax department, where she recently transferred from the financial revenue operations department.

“Emma flawlessly transitioned back into the Penn State Wilkes-Barre community after being at University Park for a semester,” Brennan said. “She embraced every opportunity that Wilkes-Barre has to offer and has earned the support and respect of her classmates. She excels in the classroom and does a tremendous job advocating for students in her role as SGA president.”

From Penn State Wilkes-Barre to Smeal College of Business

Yatsko is in her final semester of her time as an undergraduate, since she took college credits at Luzerne County Community College while still in high school that transferred to Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“I took 12 LCCC credits through Wyoming Area High School during my junior and senior years of high school. LCCC professors came to the school and taught classes during our last period of the day,” Yatsko said. “It was very easy for those credits in psychology, history and English to transfer to Penn State Wilkes-Barre. As my adviser, Erin Brennan was very helpful with that transfer and helped me schedule the other courses I needed. Because of that, I’m now graduating a semester early.”

Yatsko had her mind set on studying accounting since she was a sophomore in high school and had heard of Penn State’s excellent reputation for its academic programs.
“Having Penn State Wilkes-Barre so close to home, I wondered if I could do the 2+2 Plan,” she said. “I went for a visit at University Park and asked if the plan could work for me. The professors who were there said that was a great idea and I could save a lot of money by doing that.”

After that visit and discussion, Yatsko decided Penn State Wilkes-Barre would be the only school where she applied, and she was excited to begin her studies there after she was accepted.

Like Sands, she immediately got involved in campus activities, joining both the Business Club and SGA. Yatsko eventually became SGA’s treasurer and Business Club representative for SGA and also served as president of the Business Club. The club’s activities included fundraisers to purchase professional blazers for student members along with a field trip to the THINK Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where students were able to meet with local leaders. While involved in campus activities, she maintained a high standard of academics as well.

“Abby and I shared remote synchronous classes in the early days of COVID. She brought a wonderful positive energy to those class meetings,” Brennan said. “She turned her camera on and engaged with the material and her classmates. Abby made the learning environment better for everyone. She was always prepared and never hesitated to ask important questions and express her thoughts.”

When it came time to transition to University Park, Yatsko felt well prepared due to her experience at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“When you have had that great connection with your professors, it’s easier to ask for help if you need to, even in a much bigger class,” she said. “Having a smaller campus at first was really nice and made my transition from high school to college easier.”

She said the relationships she built at Penn State Wilkes-Barre are how she found many friends as well as a summer internship.

“My now-roommate and I met at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and became best friends. My roommate last year was also from Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Everyone we hang out with is from the Wilkes-Barre campus,” Yatsko said. She said that Lori Dunn, her accounting instructor at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, helped her get an internship with Kronick Kalada Berdy & Co. (KKB) in Kingston, where Yatsko worked as an accounting intern in the summer of 2023.

Moving forward

Yatsko will earn her degree in accounting in December. She is applying for Smeal’s master’s of accounting program and wants to pursue a career as an auditor. Sands plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in accounting in May. After graduation, Sands would like to work in the private sector in the accounting field and attain a certified public accountant (CPA) designation within a few years.

Both students are confident with the path they took and decisions they made.

“I’m definitely happier being back at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. I’m close to a lot of the students here and I feel like I know everybody,” Sands said. “You really get to know your professors well here, as you get to have them multiple times in the business programs. If you have problems, it’s easy to get in contact with your professors and get help.”

Yatsko said, “It was amazing to get to spend two years at each campus. You save so much money, especially if you can live at home and commute. And I can also say I love Smeal and I think it’s very helpful in preparing me for the real world and my career. I love going to sports games here and spending time with my friends, but also taking school seriously and making sure I do what I need to do to get good grades and my degree.”