DUNMORE, Pa. – Kim Stout-Kramer took a big leap of faith when she returned to the classroom several years ago.
That wise decision has led to a degree, a new career path and some nice accolades thrown in for good measure.
A 2020 graduate of Penn State's Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) program, Stout-Kramer was recently recognized by the Honors Student Recognition Program of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR).
NCFR is among the premier professional organizations for family research, theory and practice, and students who receive Honors distinction are recognized for their exemplary contributions in scholarship, leadership and community service within the discipline of family science.
Stout-Kramer excels in all three of those areas, according to Assistant Professor of HDFS Raymond Petren, who nominated her for the award.
“Kim is a natural leader,” Petren said. “Her poise and confidence are matched with great compassion and responsibility to others. She makes decisions thoughtfully, always considering the impact of her choices on herself, others and the systems in which she is embedded. Due to these attributes, Kim is recognized as an exemplar by her peers, professors and members of the community alike. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone who knows Kim that she received this honor, but it is quite an achievement.”
For award consideration, honorees are required to have at least 30 credits in family-specific coursework and a GPA of 3.5 or better within their major. Besides her transcripts and Petren’s recommendation, Stout-Kramer’s application included a current resume demonstrating her scholarship, leadership and community service.
News of the award left Stout-Kramer happily surprised.
“I could only imagine the many other individuals who were nominated and who have done great work in the field of family studies -- both academically and in the community,” said Stout-Kramer, who will graduate with a 4.0 cumulative GPA and a minor in child maltreatment and advocacy.
“I don’t see myself as anything exceptional, but as I enter my field I realize how well I have been prepared by PSU’s curriculum and how much I have to offer the human service field,” she continued. “Yes, I work hard, and I get involved, but I do what I love and it kind of just comes naturally. It means a lot to me that Dr. Petren recognized my accomplishments and felt a strong enough conviction to nominate me for this honor.”
An Eynon resident, Stout-Kramer spent 20 years as a practice manager for a local neurological medical practice. She enjoyed the job but longed to work in a field where she felt she could be a real help to people.
After years of talking about it, she finally made the commitment to go back to school, with the full support of her husband and children. Ultimately, she decided Penn State was the right fit for her.
“I wanted to get my degree from an institution that is respected for the outstanding education it provides its students and is held in high esteem by potential employers,” she said. “PSU fit the bill.”
With intentions of getting her degree in psychology, Stout-Kramer initially took courses through Penn State World Campus because of the flexibility it offered.
Somewhere along the way, she came to the realization that she was ready to leave her job and attend school full time. And, she had become increasingly interested in how environment impacts human behavior. Upon discussing her options with her adviser, she realized HDFS was the “perfect blend of psychology and sociology” that she was looking for.
Stout-Kramer enrolled full time at Penn State Scranton in the spring of 2016. At first, she admitted, it was “a difficult adjustment.”
“The first few months after I left my job, I felt like I lost any sense of who I was. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the traditional students, and the faculty, who often were closer to my age, were my professors and boundaries had to be kept. I felt lost,” she said. “But, before long, I found my niche. I made friends, I joined clubs, and even had the privilege to be a peer mentor and facilitate the First Year Seminar class my junior year.”
Meanwhile, she found the perfect academic home within Penn State Scranton's HDFS program. The work was challenging yet exhilarating, and she appreciated the faculty’s talent for recognizing student potential.
“They push you to be the best student you can be and to explore areas that may feel uncomfortable. It was through these experiences that I feel I grew the most academically,” Stout-Kramer said. “I also love that many of the faculty have held professional positions that I am seeking to hold. Their real-life experience brings a sense of practicality to the way they teach their classes. Learning from a textbook is beneficial, but learning this information through practical application is even better.”
Among Stout-Kramer’s favorite classes was statistics, which first exposed her to the world of quantitative research. The inquisitive side of her loved asking a question, then running through the data to arrive at an answer. Most of the time, she said, “it was never the answer I thought I was going to get.”
When Petren invited her to be a part of his research team, Stout-Kramer developed a passion for qualitative research. Her primary interest is family dynamics, specifically how families work through challenges like divorce, mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependency, and domestic violence.
Currently, the self-proclaimed “research geek” is examining PTSD as an outcome of domestic violence and how it impacts the likelihood of survivors experiencing revictimization.
“PTSD is the most common psychological distress among survivors of domestic violence and there is limited research on effective trauma-focused intervention for this population,” Stout-Kramer said.
“Kim has unique characteristics in that she matches experience and confidence with a passion for learning and growth,” Petren said. “These are great qualities for a student, a burgeoning scholar and a future leader.”
Stout-Kramer plans to continue her research by developing a program that can be implemented at Scranton’s Women’s Resource Center, where she just completed an internship and was hired to be its new full-time economic and housing advocate.
And, this fall, she will begin pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Marywood University. From there, she has intentions of becoming a licensed clinical social worker specializing in private family and individual counseling with a focus on trauma.
Looking back, Stout-Kramer can’t help but feel immensely gratified to have begun her new career journey at Penn State Scranton.
“If I can give one piece of advice to the nontraditional students, it would be to put themselves out there, get involved and take advantage of every opportunity within their means to become a part of the PSU Scranton campus,” she said. “They will grow personally and academically from the experience. They won’t regret it.”