Criminology undergraduate student Jaden H. Rankin-Wahlers named 2017 Oswald Award winner
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Five Penn State students in their respective areas of leadership have been honored with the 2017 John W. Oswald Award. Awards were given in the following fields: Jaden H. Rankin-Wahlers, social services, religious activities and student government; Courtney A. Testa, journalism, speech and mass media; Adam A.Uliana, scholarship; Walker Konkle, creative and performing arts; and Kirsten Gochnauer, athletics.
The John W. Oswald Award, established in 1983, annually recognizes graduating seniors who have provided outstanding leadership in at least one of several areas of activity at the University. The award consists of a medallion honoring John W. Oswald, president of the University from 1970 to 1983.
Social services, religious activities and student government
Rankin-Wahlers, a Schreyer Scholar and Paterno Fellow, is a senior majoring in political science and criminology in the College of the Liberal Arts. She founded Community Alliance Council, a student-run group focused on alleviating poverty in the Penn State community.
“College students face hunger and other financial issues at a greater rate than the average population,” said Rankin-Wahlers. “Helping these students for the past four years has changed my life.”
As co-president of Lion’s Pantry, Rankin-Wahlers provides food to dozens of students each month. As a leader in Project-Cahir, Rankin-Wahlers offers additional help to students by providing toiletries, textbooks and other supplies.
“Many students will tell us heartbreaking stories to justify their needs,” said Rankin-Wahlers. “A goal this year was to make them feel loved and accepted. The work I do is not about sympathy, but empathy. Poverty is complex. It is not as simple as giving a hungry person food or a homeless person a house. It’s about making it easier for them to ask for help. It’s about listening to students who need to be heard. It’s about breaking the stigma of what it means to be living in poverty.”
A nominator said Rankin-Wahlers “will not stop until she sees results” and is a motivated, compassionate and ambitious leader who has gained the respect of many at University Park.
Journalism, speech and mass media
Testa, a senior majoring in journalism in the College of Communications, is president of the Penn State television network PSNtv, where she created several successful TV shows. There, she set goals and guidelines for the network, lead the executive board and show producers, increased viewership using social media and the web and tackled production and logistical problems.
“My personal leadership philosophy involves communication, delegation and trust in people I work with,” said Testa, adding that this allows her to focus on the big-picture tasks associated with creating and maintaining hit shows as well as building an innovative and interactive website and implementing camera and editing workshops for the staff.
Her show “PSU Matchmaker,” which paired students on a blind date, won a College Emmy from the National Academy Foundation. It, along with the sketch comedy show “The Valley,” grew tremendously in student input and production value, said Testa.
“Knowing how to create an organization that allows others to flourish is the very best use of leadership,” said a nominator. “The proof that Testa has been able to do this is evident in the smoothly running PSNtv, the quality and variety of its programming and the positive engagement with its audience.”
Uliana, a Schreyer Scholar and senior majoring in chemical engineering in the College of Engineering with a 3.99 GPA, co-directed a team of 60 eco-reps tasked with implementing a sustainable culture at campus dormitories using an $80,000 budget. For the group, he co-coordinated more than 250 weekly hours of environmental education outreach to teach and motivate more than 7,000 students to develop sustainable lifestyles.
As one of the University’s eco-reps, students committed to creating a culture of sustainability at Penn State, Uliana helped devise a system to measure outcomes including weekly recycling stream weight measurements and data analyses to efficiently monitor progress.
“I truly feel I have poured my heart and soul into the community in the past three and a half years at Penn State,” said Uliana. “I have fought tirelessly for educational equality and opportunities as well as environmental mindfulness and I have devoted nearly 3,000 leadership service hours to the community.”
“Uliana has impressed us by demonstrating exceptional leadership skills, a very strong work ethic, a consistent vision to improve our world by serving others, demonstrated genuine humility and a rare level of kindness and compassion,” said a nominator. “I have worked with many students in 27 years at the University and Uliana combines a level of talent, work ethic and compassion that I have not previously experienced.”
Creative and performing arts
Konkle, a senior majoring in music in violin performance in the College of Arts and Architecture, “embraced his talents to create his own business, which provides music services for events” said a nominator, adding that he has a high level of involvement in multiple music areas. Konkle founded Toveri Performing and Associates.
Konkle is president of the Performing Arts Council, a group tasked with breaking down the walls between performing arts organizations and promoting cooperation and collaboration to further the mission of the arts. He’s also a council member for Penn State Center for the Performing Arts’ Community Advisory Council.
Professional experience for Konkle includes two years as administrative intern for the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, where he assisted the executive director with daily operations, supported the marketing department in concert preparations, helped secure grants and assisted with donor relations and fundraisers.
Konkle was also assistant to the director of orchestras at Penn State during the 2015-16 school year. There, he performed administrative tasks and assisted in rehearsals and performances.
“Konkle has been relentless in learning all that he can as he prepares to continue his journey in the arts beyond Penn State,” said a nominator. “Walker has been an exceptional student, and I am confident he will be a strong representative of his Penn State experience wherever his talents take him.”
Gochnauer, a Schreyer Scholar and senior majoring in biobehavioral health in the College of Health and Human Development, balances her academic workload and spot as captain of the University’s Division I field hockey team with volunteering to help children and adults here and abroad. These volunteer experiences will help prepare Gochnauer as she continues her education in the physician assistant program at Penn State’s College of Medicine at Hershey, Pennsylvania, later this year.
“Gochnauer is in constant motion,” said a nominator. “I have never had a student-athlete so involved in community service while maintaining such an competitive and challenging academic and athletic schedule. I am in awe of her ability to successfully balance all facets of her life. It is truly unique and impressive for a college student to be so passionately involved.”
Since 2014, Gochnauer has volunteered with Penn State Medical Brigades, where as a medical coordinator she managed $20,000 worth of medications and worked with staff to acquire federal approval for medications. In Nicaragua in 2016, she led a team of 30 students to assist residents with medical, dental and public health screenings. She did similar work as a medical volunteer for the organization Hands on Peru.
At the assisted living facility Foxdale Village, Gochnauer has been a certified nursing assistant since 2015. There, she assists residents with daily tasks such as dressing, bathing and eating while monitoring their health.
Gochnauer was inducted into Spiritus Leonitus, Penn State’s Athletic Honor Society, for her efforts during four years on the field hockey team. She earned NCAA All-American and Academic All Big Ten honors from 2013-15.