A combined image of four headshots together

From students to employees

Several employees at Penn State Wilkes-Barre have gotten to experience the campus from more than one perspective. That’s because they have been both students and employees there. Now they are able to draw on their knowledge and experiences during their interactions with students and other members of the campus community.
By: Goldie Van Horn
Alumni who now work at Penn State Wilkes-Barre have unique perspective

Several employees at Penn State Wilkes-Barre have gotten to experience the campus from more than one perspective. That’s because they have been both students and employees there. Now they are able to draw on their knowledge and experiences during their interactions with students and other members of the campus community.

“I’m happy to say that our alumni employees are focused on making Penn State Wilkes-Barre an even better place,” said Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Lynda Goldstein. “They are giving back to today’s students and provide a unique insight that could only be gained by having spent time both as a student as an employee.”

Caroline Chronowski (Wyoming Area), Jared Kepner (Lake-Lehman), Jen Oshinski (Wyoming Valley West) and Ty Pace (Tunkhannock Area) all attended local high schools and opted to attend Penn State Wilkes-Barre after graduating. The Penn State name and ability to stay at home while earning a degree from an institution like Penn State was a big draw for all of them.

“I always knew I wanted to go to Penn State, but I was originally planning to go to University Park,” said Oshinski, who earned her degree in business management with a human resources concentration in 2013. “I changed my mind at the last minute because I didn’t want to leave home yet.”

She completed her first two years at Penn State Wilkes-Barre before transitioning to University Park as part of the 2+2 Plan. After working in human resources for Metz Culinary Management, Oshinski returned to the campus in August 2017 as a regional human resources consultant. She also holds the role of interim regional HR strategic partner for the Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Scranton campuses.

“I started at Metz as an intern during my senior year of college. The only reason I got the internship was because of Penn State Wilkes-Barre,” she said. “I had worked in the Continuing Education department the summer before my senior year, and someone who was working there knew someone at Metz and connected me. It came back full circle and the campus is responsible for that connection.”

Chronowski learned about the campus from a relative who attended. She decided to attend Penn State Wilkes-Barre to pursue an associate degree in telecommunications, which she earned in 1986.

“On the day I graduated, I had two job offers. I worked in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for almost five years as an associate engineer, but wanted to return to northeastern Pennsylvania,” she recalled. “I was getting the Citizens’ Voice delivered to my home in New Jersey and saw a position for an IT (information technology) staff member at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and got that job in 1990.”

Chronowski started at Penn State Wilkes-Barre as an audio-visual technician and engineering technician, became manager of information technology in 2003 and was promoted to director of information technology in 2006. As a Penn State employee, she continued her education there and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology in 2001 while working at the campus.

Kepner interned in the campus IT department and earned a bachelor’s degree in information sciences technology in 2019. He worked as a computer support specialist for the Luzerne County Intermediate Unit 18 for about six months before coming back to Penn State Wilkes-Barre in 2020 as an IT support specialist. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity.

Pace worked as a network technician for two local companies before joining the Penn State Wilkes-Barre staff.

“While applying for my master’s degree in cybersecurity and analytics in late 2020, I found a Penn State Wilkes-Barre IT position listed,” he said. “I started at the campus in February 2021 during the pandemic. For the first two weeks of the job, neither I nor almost anyone was allowed on campus.”

Family connections

Like it is for many families, the Penn State connection is strong for these alumni employees. Several of them have family members who have also chosen to attend Penn State Wilkes-Barre: a father, a husband and a son.

“My dad went to Penn State Wilkes-Barre in the mid to late 1980s before going to University Park,” Kepner said. “Ever since I was little, I went to home football games with him.”

Oshinski’s husband, Eric, also attended Penn State Wilkes-Barre for his first two years. And Chronowski’s son George is a current student at the campus, following in his mother’s footsteps by studying information technology, a four-year program now offered at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“I often ask my son what he thinks about something or talk about events at the campus,” Chronowski said. “I like to hear his perspective and get that feedback from him. It also helps that I was a student here to remember what it was like.”

A different look, but the same atmosphere

Chronowski said both the campus and the IT field have seen significant changes since she was a student.

“When I started working here, they were building the Athletic and Recreation Building and the Center for Technology had just opened. The Academic Commons came later, in 2006. Those buildings did not exist when I was a student,” she said. “We had most of our classes in the modular buildings behind the science center and also had classes in Hayfield House. The Murphy Student Services Center contained the library and classrooms. IT is also very different now. We used to register for classes using a big mainframe computer with punch slots.”

Despite the physical changes to the campus, it has retained its welcoming, friendly reputation for students and employees alike.  

“I like that our campus is small and everyone knows each other,” Pace said. “It’s still a tight-knit, friendly campus.”

Kepner agreed, saying, “The smaller classes meant I really got to know the faculty as a student. I never had a faculty member I didn’t like. Everyone was great.”

Oshinski said the atmosphere of Penn State Wilkes-Barre made her happy she initially changed her mind and decided to complete her first two years of study there.

“Everybody was so friendly and welcoming, right from the beginning. That’s why I liked the campus so much as a student,” she said. “I still feel that it’s like a small family. I made the right choice going to Penn State Wilkes-Barre.”

Coming full circle

“I always knew I wanted to come back to work at Penn State,” Oshinski said. “I had no idea what it was like to be here as an employee, but I knew I wanted to come back and try it. I’m really glad I did. It’s great to be back at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and work with some of the people I knew when I was a student.”

Her IT coworkers had no plans of coming back to work at the campus, but are happy they did.

“I really like that I work where I went to school,” Kepner said. “It was interesting to go from having faculty members as teachers and being in their classes to now helping and supporting them.”

Chronowski said, “I love Penn State Wilkes-Barre, so I was happy to come back. I didn’t think I’d be here for 30 years, but I really enjoy the work. That same sense of community I felt as a student I now have as an employee.”

Pace said he thinks his time as a student helps him relate to students today.

“Being a younger alumnus, I feel students are comfortable asking me questions,” he said. “And a nice bonus of coming to work here was that I already knew many of the people, including Caroline, and had a relationship with them.”

Oshinski said the Penn State connection is an important part of her life as an alumna.

"Penn State never leaves you,” she said. “I feel that regardless of where you move and where you work, Penn State is everywhere, and it’s so valuable for us all to stay connected."

Opportunities for Penn State Wilkes-Barre alumni to stay connected include the annual Penn State Wilkes-Barre Alumni Society golf tournament, where both Chronowski and Pace will be volunteering this year.

“It’s a way to give back to Penn State Wilkes-Barre and support the campus,” Chronowski said.