Character. Scholarship. Leadership. Citizenship.
Each year, one Penn State Altoona student who most embodies these qualities is chosen to receive the prestigious Eric A. and Josephine S. Walker Award.
This award, established in 1980, recognizes a student who directs those outstanding qualities into programs and services that positively influence fellow students and contribute to the well-being of the campus.
When Samantha Nash watched outgoing Student Government Association president AJ Fink win the award in 2017, she thought that she would like to earn the honor for herself.
Nash came to Penn State from Sturgis, South Dakota. With plans to become a meteorologist, she decided to spend two years at the Altoona college, then transfer to University Park. However, she says she ended up loving Penn State Altoona so much that she decided to change her major to psychology and stay all four years at the campus.
“I liked the small ratio of faculty and staff to students. All my professors knew my name, and they are so invested in giving their students the best. I also loved the small campus feel. Knowing so many of my peers and being able to see them and say hello while walking to classes or events was really neat.”
By staying at Penn State Altoona, Nash was able to participate in undergraduate research and take advantage of multiple leadership opportunities. She joined the meteorology club and served as its vice president. She became an orientation leader and held the student director of orientation position. At various times, she was president, vice president, and vice president of community relations for Alpha Sigma Tau sorority. Nash had been in Student Council in high school and wanted to continue being a voice for the student body of Penn State Altoona, so she joined the Student Government Association (SGA) as a freshman. For Nash, it wasn’t so much the actual organizations she belonged to that built her skill set and character, but the people she met through them. “Nobody knows everything. You learn and grow from people pushing you to be better and supporting you.”
Having always considered herself a leader, Nash knew she wanted to become the president of SGA. When she was elected as a junior, she was excited but nervous. “I felt like I had a lot of work ahead of me. I had really big shoes to fill, and a lot of people were questioning what type of leader I was and how I would make decisions.”
Nash explains that she likes to lead from the front by setting an example of integrity, a good work ethic, and a positive attitude. She uses the phrase “leading from the back” to describe how she delegates tasks to others, then lets them use their own creativity to complete the work. “I like to say I'm a life gardener. What I mean is that I like to stand back and watch others find their way, tending by sharing advice here and there or when asked.” This allows her to understand the leadership styles of others and learn how best to work together.
During her two-year tenure as president, Nash learned how to navigate the Penn State system. As one university geographically dispersed, there are dozens of offices and people to work with when trying to enact change. She says that helped her hone her communication skills and build professional ones, as well.
One major issue that Nash and SGA attempted to improve upon at Penn State Altoona was advising. “Students were talking loudly about it, so we lobbied for things like drop-in hours. We held round tables and panels. Some of our discussions were taken higher in the University and to the Commonwealth Council of Student Governments, a body that consists of all Commonwealth student governments. That was cool to see happen.”
Sustainability was another undertaking for Nash and SGA. They worked to revamp the eco-friendly, reusable Green2Go containers in Port-Sky Café. They suggested updating recycling bins around campus to include pictures of what types of materials can be recycled in which bin. They also helped implement Eco-Point at the Book Store, a program in which patrons can opt not to take a plastic bag for purchases and instead, five cents are donated to the Ivyside Eats food pantry on campus.
Nash is especially proud of the connections SGA made with local and state government representatives. Members began to attend city council meetings and collaborated with council members to get a crosswalk painted at a particularly dangerous intersection near Whenwood Court. They also met with the representatives to lobby for more funding for higher education across the state.
“There was a lot of good that came out of the two years I was president,” Nash says, “but I also think there was more that could have been accomplished. Now it’s time to let the incoming president work on those things.”
Nash hopes she has left a lasting footprint on campus by allowing students to grow as people and find their own voices. “I hope that they talk about my administration next year and the next and that my style keeps getting passed down through each set of SGA representatives.”
Because of her dedication to the campus, her work for its betterment, and her guidance, Nash did, indeed, receive the coveted Walker Award at the 2019 Student Award Ceremony held in April.
“I started crying. It showed me that all I have done on campus meant something. But beyond that, I think that the real good you can do is leaving a lasting impact on individual people. When I heard some of what others had to say about me, I knew I had accomplished that, as well.”
At the ceremony, Chancellor and Dean Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry stated, “Her peers say she ‘leads with grace while helping those around her with kindness.’ Her advisers say that she is a ‘pillar of the community’ and that ‘her efforts for personal growth and campus progress will last for many years beyond her time at Penn State Altoona.’” She added, “We believe that Sam has planted, tended, and sowed a beautiful, robust garden of kindness, responsibility, and the kind of curiosity that we strive to cultivate in our students.”
Incoming SGA president Sierra Snieger said, “I have never met anyone as special as Sam. She has encouraged me to not only grow as a leader but as a person. I know she will exceed at anything she does beyond graduation.”
Nash earned her degree on May 4. She has returned to her home in South Dakota, not necessarily a different person, she says, but a more well-rounded one. “The Midwest is a very conservative area, and of course that will always shape me, but when I came here, I was able to experience the freedom to explore and understand my own personal views, away from the influence of home. I definitely would not be the person I am without Penn State. Everything that I learned and accomplished at Penn State Altoona has also shaped me into this better version of myself. It’s all propelling me into a great future—a really bright one.”
Nash plans to attend graduate school for higher education, one day becoming a director of student affairs or even the president of a university.
“People have been asking me how I feel to be done at Penn State Altoona. I can't put anything into words other than to say it’s bittersweet. I am sad because I'm going to miss it. It's such a great environment, and the people here want you to thrive and succeed. I feel really proud of what I’ve done, and I’m looking forward to applying all that I’ve learned to the places I go from here. Overall, I’m just very grateful.”
Checking in with former Walker Award recipients.
Kiersten Bricker attended Penn State Altoona from 2011-14 when she graduated with a B.S. in business with a concentration in management and marketing.
She currently lives in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and works at Penn State Health recruiting nurses for Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
Bricker was secretary of the Student Government Association from 2012-13 and president from 2013-14. During that time, she worked on an initiative to improve the bus route from the Ivyside campus to the Downtown campus. She was also an Orientation Leader captain, a member of Alpha Sigma Tau sorority, and served on the Campus Activities Board.
Bricker received the Walker Award in 2014. “The award meant a great deal to me. It was amazing to be recognized. The work I did never felt like an obligation or something that I had to do. I did it because I enjoyed being part of organizations on campus. I didn’t get involved until my sophomore and junior years, and it changed my college experience. Receiving the award gave me the perspective on the impact I had on Penn State Altoona. It was a sign of how much I had grown from freshman to junior year.”
Bricker says she carries the spirit of the Walker Award with her today by trying to stay active in the community. She is a member of the Harrisburg Young Professionals and plays in its sports leagues.
Marra Baker was a student at Penn State Altoona from 2012-15. She graduated with a B.A. in communications.
She currently lives in Reedsville, Pennsylvania, and is employed as the director of Student Recruitment and Activities for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.
Baker was selected for the Walker Award in 2015. “During that year I was Campus Activities Board president, vice president of operations for Alpha Sigma Tau, a Lion Ambassador, a member of LiveWire, held a job on campus, and was also taking extra credits to graduate a semester early. Receiving the Walker Award meant that my hard work, outgoing personality, and determination were paying off. I was so honored to be selected as the 2015 winner, the year after my best friend Kiersten received the award!”
The traits of a Walker Award recipient include outstanding character, scholarship, leadership, and citizenship. Baker says she tries to abide by those every day in her career. “The standards of the Walker Award have inspired me from the day I stepped onto campus my freshman year. As someone who always strives to make a positive impression on everyone I meet, I keep those qualities in the back of my mind, and they help me succeed.”
Alexis Schumacher attended Penn State Altoona from 2014-18 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She is currently enrolled at Saint Francis University working toward a master’s in human resource management and works as a graduate assistant in The Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation.
Schumacher received the Walker Award in 2018. She believes she was chosen because her values align closely with those of Penn State’s: integrity, respect, responsibility, discovery, excellence, and community. “Receiving the Walker Award was beyond amazing. I felt as though I truly made an impact on the campus, and many people recognized that. As cliché as it sounds, making a difference somehow was one of the many things I wanted to accomplish during my undergraduate career.”
Schumacher believes it’s important to continue exemplifying the Penn State values in her life now. “I want to be a good, genuine person. I’d like to believe I do my best to carry those values out every day in my personal and professional life.”