four students pose for photo at THON fundraiser

Making the jump from their hometown campus to University Park

How friendships and experiences at Penn State Scranton as part of the University's 2+2 program helped prepare this group of friends for success.
By: Morgan Sewack

DUNMORE, Pa. – The journey from Penn State Scranton to University Park is not just a geographical shift for Raj Gandhi, Matthew Howard, Avianna Pugliese and Amanda Rzucidlo; it's also a testament to a lifelong friendship that has weathered academic challenges and personal growth.

The four students all took advantage of Penn State's 2+2 program, the most common path for a Penn State degree, with about 60 percent of all Penn State students taking advantage of this option in a typical year.  Incoming students can start their college experience at any one of Penn State's 22 Commonwealth campuses, (usually, it's the one closest to their hometown) and then complete their degree at another Penn State campus.

Their connection, a bond that was initiated by Howard, is described by Rzucidlo as the ‘glue to the group’ and like many significant student relationships, began during  New Student Orientation (NSO) Program and Lion Ambassador Organization events at Penn State Scranton, which aided in establishing a friendship that would extend far beyond the campus grounds.

Pugliese, initially overwhelmed by the prospect of college life and forging new friendships, found comfort and camaraderie within this group.

“I was really intimidated at first. I was coming into college clueless not knowing anyone at all, but after getting involved, our friendship grew from there,” she said.

The commonality of starting fresh at college and the shared experiences of NSO created a foundation for a bond that would flourish as they progressed through their academic endeavors.

Navigating the intimidation of new beginnings

As seasoned students providing insights to newcomers beginning their collegiate journey at Penn State, the quartet highlighted the importance of involvement, pushing one's boundaries, and taking advantage of campus resources.

Gandhi, reflecting on his own journey, encouraged first-year students to, “be comfortable in being uncomfortable,” emphasizing the need to step outside of one's comfort zone to fully embrace the collegiate experience.

“Get involved. Do everything –  go on the trips the campus offers, go to the common hour events like bingo or late-night karaoke – just get involved and meet new people because everyone during your first year is in the same boat and looking to make new friends,” Gandhi said.

Like Gandhi, Howard shared similar advice to new incoming students.

“Do not be afraid to try new things. Maybe some of the things you did not try in high school, you can try in college,” Howard said. “You are really starting off fresh when you go to college.”

Rzucidlo stressed the significance of listening to advisers, particularly during the crucial first year of college when guidance can shape academic paths.

“Use all the resources you can within your first two years. I think it’s important to not only connect with your classmates but also get to know and form a bond with your professors too,” Rzucidlo said.

“Getting to know the staff is really important and fun as well. They helped bring me a lot of great connections as well,” Howard said. “They all made Penn State Scranton a place where I look forward to, and feel comfortable, coming back.”  

Pugliese stressed the importance of finding a balance between academic and co-curricular activities.

“Try to balance your social and academic life. Find a happy balance that makes you want to go to school every day,” Pugliese said.

Paths to passion: a journey in majors

Their diverse academic pursuits – meteorology, bio-behavioral health, aerospace engineering and biomedical engineering – reflect the variety of passions discovered during their time at Penn State Scranton. Each student's journey into their chosen field of study was not just a path to a degree but a discovery of personal passion and purpose.

Rzucidlo found her major through the guidance of Coordinator of Career Services Jon Tobin, who taught her the importance of aligning personal interests with academic pursuits. Gandhi's fascination with space and NASA led him to aerospace engineering, a decision shaped by childhood dreams and curiosity.

Howard's journey into meteorology sprouted from hours spent watching the weather channel during his formative years. Pugliese's interest in biomedical engineering was ignited by a personal connection to a wounded veteran with a prosthetic leg, inspiring her to explore the field with a profound sense of purpose.

Reflecting on their Penn State Scranton experience, the students expressed gratitude for the unwavering support received from faculty and staff.

“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes the same thing here,” Gandhi said. “There is not [just] one staff or faculty member that aided in our support and success. The Learning and Writing staff, Admissions office, and my engineering faculty, just to name a few, helped give me support. I have to give credit to everyone for their support.”

Mixed emotions as they bid farewell to Scranton

As the students prepared to transition to University Park for the 2023-34 academic year, conflicting emotions emerged for all of them. All four expressed a mixture of both excitement and fear about the move, navigating the unknowns that come with a new chapter.

For Howard, the realization that he had spent his entire life in Scranton made the temporary relocation an opportunity for personal growth and new connections. “I realized I was in Scranton my entire life. I think this temporary move is helping me grow and make more connections,” Howard said.

Rzucidlo, reflecting on the transition, revealed that it impacted a significant life shift.

“We all had mixed emotions about the transition. We loved Penn State Scranton, but it was time for a change,” Rzucidlo said. “The people make the campus. I loved Penn State Scranton and it’s because of the people – that’s what they don’t tell you as a 2+2 student and that made this transition so difficult leaving.”

In their collective advice, the group encouraged embracing change and finding happiness on their new campus. As these four students embarked on their next chapter at University Park, their journey represents the transformative power of friendships and the vital support of a University community.

Finding their place at University Park

While the move to University Park was bittersweet, the four students found joy in their new environment. They reflected on countless memories made so far, including decorating their dorms, studying around campus, checking out new places to eat, and of course, attending Penn State football games together.

The camaraderie that started at Penn State Scranton remains intact at University Park, as they continue to spend time together and nurture their enduring friendship.

“I feel like at Scranton, we were the big fish in a little pond, and now that has changed since we moved down to University Park, but it’s really not as scary as it sounds,” Pugliese said. “Aside from this friend group, whenever I tell people I came from a Commonwealth campus or that I am a 2+2 student, it opens the door for more conversations.”

Enduring friendship beyond campus boundaries

Their journey from forming a tight-knit group during NSO and Lion Ambassador events to successful transfers to University Park emphasizes the profound impact of friendship and academic encouragement Gandhi, Howard, Pugliese, and Rzucidlo secured for themselves.

As these students pursue their diverse majors at University Park, their story serves as an inspiration for those navigating the exciting yet challenging landscape of campus life. “It takes time to find out who you are on campus. Once you embrace the change, you can find your happiness here too,” Gandhi said.