The Penn State Berks student marshals, chosen from the students graduating with the highest grade point averages in each of the three academic divisions, have much in common. Not only have they made the most of their four years of college, taking advantage of opportunities to conduct research with faculty members and making friends and memories that will last a lifetime, but they all plan on using their education to serve others.
The marshals are all speakers at the college’s two commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 5. They include Michael A. Bianco, Pottstown, a Mechanical Engineering major (4.0 GPA) representing the Division of Engineering, Business and Computing at the 10 a.m. ceremony. At the 2 p.m. ceremony, Kaylee Grindrod, Sinking Spring, an Applied Psychology major representing the Division of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Zachary Fox, Lititz, a Kinesiology major representing the Division of Science, will address their fellow graduates.
The three are also receiving Schreyer Honors Medals for successfully completing all the requirements of the Penn State Schreyer Honors College. Their theses reflect their philosophies and commitments to the betterment of society.
Adult learner Bianco combines liberal arts and engineering education
Bianco, 34, embodies what to means to make the most of college as an adult learner.
Before enrolling in the fall of 2015 at Berks, he graduated in 2006 from Soka University, Aliso Viejo, California, earning a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a concentration in International Studies and also taking a number of Japanese language courses. He then moved to and lived in Japan from 2007 to 2013, where he taught at the Chubu International Preschool and attended a Japanese language school full-time. Such were his skills that he was certified at the highest level after taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
After spending a year back in the U.S., he decided he wanted to go back to college. When asked why he chose Penn State Berks, he responded, “Largely because my dad graduated from [Penn State] University Park with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1983. Penn State Berks was close and convenient because I wanted to commute.
Finally, because I went to Soka, I wanted another college that was small where I could develop close relationships with the faculty and other students.”
Bianco found these close relationships at Penn State Berks where he quickly adapted. “I was able to focus on my studies without distraction, classes were small, I made friends and got to know my professors,” he stated adding that one of his favorite classes was System Dynamics taught by Dr. Joseph Mahoney, assistant professor of engineering, who also served as his Schreyer Honors thesis adviser and mentor.
His thesis, “Virtual Air Hockey Table as Human Motor Control Analysis Research Platform,” was developed in the hopes that it will help physicians to quickly diagnosis neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Bianco, who will graduate summa cum laude, received the Penn State Berks Outstanding Adult Student, Scholar Baccalaureate Degree Graduate, and Outstanding Achievement in Mechanical Engineering awards. He also received the Evan Pugh Scholar Award (2017) and Mechanical Engineering Sciences Award (2016), as well as several scholarships.
“I know that I have gotten these awards based on my individual achievement and while I have had to work hard to get where I am, it has been a group effort. So much of the studying that I did was based on a spirit of camaraderie, a willingness for all of us to work together. The world needs that,” Bianco said.
He will begin his career in July working in product innovation at the Bridgestone Americas Technical Center in Akron, Ohio. Bridgestone, which has its global headquarters in Tokyo, is the world’s largest tire and rubber company.
“I feel like I have been a student for nearly all of my life. That has its appeal, but now it’s time for me to actually get to work. My dream is that I can use skills from both of my rather different backgrounds to continue to better others and myself. People tend to think that the humanities and engineering are quite separate, but I find them quite compatible,” said Bianco.
Grindrod plans to help children through play therapy
Grindrod, who graduated from Conrad Weiser High School, came to college not knowing what she wanted to do. “I wasn’t a super student in high school. But once I got to Penn State Berks, it was a family environment; everyone was so welcoming. I quickly got to know a lot of people and it made me feel like I belonged here.”
She said that she always liked to help people and had always loved children, which led to her realization that she wanted to become a play therapist. “I want to work with children who can’t verbalize or communicate their feelings,” she said of the driving force behind her Schreyer Honors research.
Titled “Effectiveness of Social-Emotional Recognition Apps for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” her research was designed to help autistic children develop better reactions to facial expressions.
After four years, Grindrod said she has been lucky. “I was involved in a lot of clubs and activities at Penn State Berks that helped change who I was and helped me grow. The biggest surprise for me was how many opportunities there are and how many people are willing to help you to succeed. I don’t think I ever expected that going to college.”
As far as activities, one of her most rewarding was belonging to Berks Benefitting THON, which has about 60 student members. Grindrod was a member of the Executive Committee and also in charge of the Family Relations Committee, which coordinates all things related to the four Berks THON families over the course of the year.
“We do whatever we can to help families leading up to THON weekend in February and it is very fulfilling. Every Penn State campus has a THON group and this year Penn State Berks raised $71,000, the most among all the campuses outside University Park. It was a record for us and definitely rewarding,” she said.
She also had high praise for the college’s Applied Psychology department. “Everyone supports you. It is a really great and close-knit family. I can’t really pick a favorite class; I benefited from all of them.”
Being an intern was another of her favorite experiences. “I did two internships at Aaron’s Acres for children with physical or intellectual disabilities held at Camp Conrad Weiser. Another was helping [faculty member] Dr. Eric Lindsey with a literature review and data collection for play therapy. And I spent two semesters learning research methods.”
Grindrod recently received the college’s Excellence in Sociology Award and graduates magna cum laude.
She commented that her whole family is focused on volunteering. “I love community service and giving back in any way that I can. That’s why I want to go to graduate school to earn my doctorate in psychology (Psy.D) and become a play therapist.” She also hopes to follow in the footsteps of her great-grandmother, Mrs. Fern Dewald, who volunteered for 70 years at the Olivet Boys and Girls Club in Reading.
Fox parlays interest in fitness into career helping others
Fox was not only undecided about a career, but whether he even wanted to go to college. The “eureka” moment came when his mother got a job at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and she told him one of her benefits was reduced tuition for her children, but only after working there one year. “It was a no-brainer for me. And, ironically, the day I enrolled at Penn State Berks in the fall of 2014 was her first work anniversary,” said Fox.
He chose Kinesiology as a major because he had always been interested in fitness, especially since the eighth grade when the Conestoga Valley Middle School wrestling coach invited him to join the team. “Actually, I found that I liked practices and working out more than competition,” he recalled.
However Fox, who wrestled at 182 and 195 pounds in high school, said he did enjoy being part of the team for his junior and senior years when it won the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section II title. His senior record was 22 and 12.
While attending Penn State Berks, Fox assisted Conestoga Valley’s middle and high school wrestling teams coached by Brandon Hershey and Trent Turner, respectively. He said his coaches have inspired him.
The size of Penn State Berks also appealed to Fox, who especially enjoyed all of his Kinesiology classes, including those in strength training, anatomy and biomechanics. “I appreciated my professors who helped and encouraged me,” commented Fox. “Penn State Berks has a lot of resources, especially the Human Movement Research Center where I used the motion analysis system for my Schreyer Honors research.”
His thesis, “Quantifying Knee Injury Risk During a Wrestling Takedown,” examined the knee motion that occurs during two common wrestling takedowns.
“I expected college to be hard, but I was determined to do well. Penn State Berks has helped me a lot, especially with skills like giving speeches and presentations, attending conferences and interacting with professors and peers. I really appreciate that my instructors pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone.”
Another factor contributing to Fox’s increasing commitment to his career was the 270-hour internship he completed at Lancaster Orthopedic Group in Ephrata. He received the Penn State Berks Outstanding Internship award for his efforts. He will graduate magna cum laude.
“I like sports; I like working with athletes. I have spent a lot of time in the Beaver Community Center on campus. I hope to become a physical therapist or athletic trainer someday for a college, or a professional or Olympic team,” he stated.
Fox is off to a good start. He has been accepted to the highly competitive and prestigious dual-degree program—Doctorate of Physical Therapy and Master’s of Athletic Training—at Shenandoah University, Winchester, Va., one of three candidates accepted as of April 20, 2018.