Alumnus credits success to his start at Penn State Lehigh Valley

Two professors and a student pose at Lion Shrine

Joe Sullivan, 2016 Penn State graduate, (center) poses with two of his mentors Mike Krajsa (left), instructor in business, and Bob Wolfe (right), instructor in business and economics, both at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

Credit: Dennille Schuler

As Joe Sullivan, a 2016 Penn State graduate, packs up his things and prepares to move from Easton, Pennsylvania, to Atlanta, Georgia, later this month for his new job at Mars Inc., he reflected on his college experience and personal journey.

Sullivan was a marketing major who minored in supply chain and information sciences and technology. He graduated from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and Schreyer Honors College in May after spending his first two years at Penn State Lehigh Valley as part of the 2+2 program.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for college; I was considering moving away for school or possibly going to play Division III football somewhere,” said Sullivan. “Mike Damweber came to my high school to talk about Penn State Lehigh Valley and it’s what caused me to apply.”

Sullivan knew Penn State Lehigh Valley would be a good starting point. What he did not expect was how quickly he would feel comfortable here.

“Ever since my first day of orientation, Professor Jacqueline McLaughlin made me feel welcomed. She made me feel like a person, not just a number,” Sullivan said. “I then met two of my future mentors, Mike Krajsa and Bob Wolfe, who pushed me and got me engaged in the business world.”

Krajsa, instructor in business, and Wolfe, instructor in business and economics, both at Penn State Lehigh Valley, showed Sullivan how to network, how to build a resume and taught him the real world application of what he was learning in their classes. Sullivan used the skills learned at the Lehigh Valley campus to excel in everything he does today.

“They were not just professors to me; they were like family to me,” said Sullivan. “They helped me unleash my confidence so that I would be comfortable at a bigger setting like University Park. Now, I am confident and comfortable meeting new people and being part of my new company, I feel I have something to contribute.”

While some people think there is a stigma to the small size of this campus, Sullivan countered that it is the small size that makes it academically harder at times because the spotlight is always on.

“You can’t skate by at a smaller campus because professors focus on you and hold you accountable. There is such a family vibe here. We are a close knit community and this campus gives you all of the skills you need and the opportunity to succeed.”

Sullivan had many opportunities at Penn State Lehigh Valley from being part of the Business Society to serving as a Lion Ambassador and Advising Ambassador.

“Joe’s real gift is in using his talents and knowledge in clearing the fog of self-doubt in the minds of his classmates by encouraging them to embrace ambiguity with diverse thinking, servant leadership and collaboration in fostering change,” said Krajsa. “Joe is a giver and a team builder.”

When Maryam Kiani, instructor in mathematics, asked him to be a tutor he recalled feeling extremely honored and flattered. He wound up tutoring for seven subjects.

“I never saw myself as a leader. I was always in the background, but they saw that in me. It was eye-opening seeing how I could help someone get a better grade. I never thought I could be that person for someone else,” said Sullivan.

“His involvement in those programs dedicated to supporting the University and his fellow students speaks volumes about his character, his dedication to this University and to his unselfish use of time to help his peers,” said Wolfe.

Sullivan went on to win the Walker Award at Penn State Lehigh Valley, which proved to be another turning point for him.

“Winning that award, opened my eyes that I could move on from this campus now and be able to succeed. Seeing how much everyone believed in me at Penn State Lehigh Valley helped me to believe in myself,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan went on to be inducted into the honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma and graduated with distinction from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and Schreyer Honors College. He is moving to Atlanta for a job with Mars Inc. as a territory sales representative.

Before he moved away, Sullivan recently returned to the Lehigh Valley campus to give two of his mentors a special gift: a personalized and bound copy of his 92-page thesis.

“I wanted to give them a token of my gratitude that would mean a lot to them and something that meant a lot to me. They helped me be able to do this,” said Sullivan.