2017 Graduates' Stories

Inspiring Tales About Some Students From the Class of 2017

Pitt-Johnstown conferred 559 degree to students during its 45th annual Commencement ceremony, held April 29, 2017. Each student has their own story of triumph in achieving their degree.

The following are a few of the many interesting stories about the Class of 2017, as told by Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar during his Commencement ceremony remarks. The subjects are: 

Cara Lang

Cara Lang, biochemistry and biology major

flickr Commencement 2017 photos on Flickr >

Each profile is unique in its level of inspiration and each respresents the broad range of backgrounds and personalities that define the Pitt-Johnstown student.

Maxine Marie Maines, Respiratory Care re-entry student

Maxine altered her career plan in the early 1990s after finishing high school and entering the workforce. It did not take long, however, for Maxine to discover that life on her chosen path was difficult. Jobs were in short demand, and, as a single mom, did not pay enough to support her family.

Maxine decided to attend Cambria Rowe, hoping it would allow her to secure a steady job. Following graduation, she spent several years working as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office. 

Her work in the medical office planted the seed that started her current trajectory.  She realized that she had a passion for helping people and that she wanted to do what she could to help them feel better. 

Four years ago she decided to take a chance and to invest in her future. She made the decision to quit her job and to go back to school when she learned Pitt-Johnstown offered an Associate Degree in Respiratory Care.

Like most returning to academia after many years away, her start was difficult. She took a few preliminary classes at Penn Highlands to develop and renew her study skills. Her academics gradually improved as she transitioned to Pitt-Johnstown.

It did not take long for Maxine to feel at home here, and to help others feel the same. She is often referred to as "class mom," partly because of her age, but mostly because of her kind, nurturing heart.

  • She truly loves the faculty, staff and students in RESCA, and developed many deep friendships.
  • She absolutely loves Respiratory Care, has already secured a job, and cannot wait to see her patients.
  • She epitomizes what faculty hope for in a student: hard-working and love for her discipline.
  • Pitt-Johnstown has allowed her to have not just a job, but a life-long career, and hope for her future.
  • Her kindness and dedication give us hope also.

Her father, two sisters, three children, partner, niece and nephew attended commencement to watch the culmination of her hard work.

Maxine is called “mom” by many, but today we call her a proud graduate of Pitt-Johnstown.  Her family – and her Pitt family – could not be more proud!

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Cara Lang, Biochemistry and Biology

Cara’s personal loss inspired her to make a difference. Cara knows that one person can make a difference and she is determined to do so.  Her academic and career path are the result of adversity and a strong belief that she could rise above loss to help save others.

When she was in the seventh grade, she lost her grandfather to cancer.  When she was young she would spend most of her time with him, gardening, working on small projects, reading the newspaper, and sitting on the porch swing talking, or riding around the yard in his golf cart.   

The day he passed away, Cara told her father that she wanted to find a cure.

Her grandfather would tell her that as long as she worked hard and was honest no goal was impossible and if anyone makes a difference in cancer research, he was confident it will be Cara.  

Cara has been a big part of Pitt-Johnstown’s chemistry department since her freshmen year – conducting research, tutoring, and student instructing.

She is a Biochemistry-Biology dual major with a near perfect record of scholarship. She did undergraduate research with both Dr. Tim Evans and Dr. Becky Webb. In addition, she participated in three different summer research experiences at Duquesne University, Johns Hopkins University, and at the Scripps Research institute

Cara has served as Vice President and President of our local chapter of the American Chemical Society. She is a member, as well as Vice president, of the Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society chapter.

She is the 2017 College Scholar in Biochemistry, the recipient of the Campus Association Rosella Blackington Award for Outstanding Senior and the Dr. and Mrs. Henry Idzkowsky Golden Candle Medal presented to a female senior for outstanding academic achievement and leadership.

Cara will pursue a PhD in cancer biology and immunology at Vanderbilt University. She has made a difference on the campus of Pitt-Johnstown and we are confident that she has only begun!

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Madeline Liedberg, Nursing and Health Sciences

Madeline– or Maddie as we know her – is a hard working and dedicated graduate of the Nursing program who genueinly cares about her patients. Over the past three years, Maddie has blossomed into a competent, caring, and motivated student nurse.  Maddie is the ideal student nurse – kind, compassionate, intelligent, motivated, and truly invested in excelling in her chosen field.  Her GPA (3.709) reflects this commitment, but it is a greater accomplishment to be viewed  by her peers, faculty, and patients as a kind and competent nurse.

Madeline has been an exemplary student and student nurse, both for her academic accomplishments, but also for her reasearch and univerity community involvement.  She has received the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Nursing Alumni Student Award in 2016 in recognition of her exceptional clinical and academic performance.  She worked with Dr. Elizabeth Katrancha on a research project to foster improvements in student nurse hand-off reporting at the end of their shift. 

As impressively, Madeline has been very actively involved with the Communcation Department on a project called “The Fear of the Unknown.”  She completed a directed medical conversation assignment with a patient who had a terminal cancer diagnosis for her Medical Communication class and wrote an outstanding summary paper for the assignment.  She and her mentor, Susan Wieczork, received the Mentorship Fund to Support Faculty-Student Scholarship, Research and Creative Activities for presentation of the project. 

Her university involvement has included participation on the planning board for the Healthy Coummunity Series for Cambria-Somerset Council on Continuing Education, Light the Night Walk benefitting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Home for the Holidays at Arbutus Retirment Community and many others.

She has also demonstrated leadership within campus organizatins including the Student Nurse Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP), serving as the president this year.

Maddie is one of 10 student nurses from around the state selected for the highly competitive UPMC Summer Student Nurse Internship.  She has also interned at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and has accepted an offer for a full-time position immediately after graduation.

Despite her numerous achievements and awards, Maddie remains a genuienly kind, personable, and caring young woman.  We are proud on our graduate, Madeline Liedberg, and look forward to watching her continue to prove that one person can make a difference.

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John Blankenship, scholar athlete, Engineering

When asked to describe John Blankenship, Wrestling Coach Pat Pecora said simply: “They don’t make them like him anymore.”

“John is the strong, silent type. I’m going to miss him. He was always dependable, reliable, and required no maintenance. He showed up, worked hard, and gave it all he had on both the mat and in the classroom.”

John wrestled in the 174-pound level this year. He compiled a career record of 79-40, was a three-time NCAA National Qualifier, and was a three-time PSAC Tournament Place Winner as well.

John earned first-team honors for a third consecutive year on the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division II All-Academic Wrestling Team this year.

He has a 3.47 overall GPA in Engineering and is one of only seven student-athletes named to the All-Academic team for a fourth time. He earned honorable mention as a freshman.

In order for a student-athlete to be nominated to the Division II All-Academic Team, they:

  • must have a minimum 3.00 cumulative grade point average,
  • must also be in at least their second full year at their school,
  • be a varsity  member on their team or a key reserve,
  • and demonstrate a degree of skill and have a minimum of two letters of recommendation (academic advisor and coach) submitted on their behalf.

He placed sixth at the National Tournament in 2015 to become an All-American and qualified for the National Tournament in both 2016 and 2017. 

He is a leader and a role model on the mat and in the classroom.  A champion by all measures. 

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Shaynee Turgeon, Natural Sciences (Psychology), military spouse, and adult re-entry

When asked the primordial question, what are you going to do when you grow up, Shaynee Turgeon’s answer has always been clear on one thing: that she would be working with people and helping them in some capacity.

Life does not always go as planned and Shaynee is thankful for the obstacles that have been placed in her way. They have created the person that she is today.  

Shaynee graduated from high school with a license in Cosmetology. She worked as a full-time Cosmetologist for four years, and enjoyed what she was doing, but she had a nagging feeling that there was something greater for her to accomplish and more for her to contribute.

So she decided to pursue her college degree with the hope of becoming a special education teacher. Halfway through her second year she got married and became pregnant with twins. She was unable to complete her last semester because of complications with her pregnancy.

When her children were old enough to start school, Shaynee decided to return to school. Before she did, her husband joined the National Guard and was deployed – twice - to Afghanistan.  The first deployment was 18 months and the second was a year.

It was during her husband’s deployment that Shaynee realized what she wanted to do with her life.

She saw around her a need that was overwhelming when she realized the challenges that soldiers and their families face during and after deployments.  She saw the toll that deployments took on families and how couples struggled when they returned. She saw children who could not sleep at night trying to adjust to life without a parent, and she saw the struggle of readjusting to life once their soldier return.

It was her first-hand experience with the hardships that gave her career goals an even larger purpose.  Shaylee knew that if she could help an individual in a time of need, whether it is big or small, that’s what she wanted to do. And it wasn’t easy, but she did it.

Today, we congratulate Shaylee for earning her degree in Psychology, along with the respect of the Psychology Department.  She has been accepted into a Masters of Social Work program and we are confident that she will be making a difference in the lives of many. 

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Shannon Marko, Mechanical Engineering Technology

Shannon Marko is a Mechanical Engineering Technology major with a minor in mathematics.  Shannon has been on the dean’s list every term.  Shannon has had internships at the NASA Glenn facility, Koeningsburg Defense Systems, and will work this summer at NASA Langley before attending the University of Alabama Huntsville to pursue a Masters. 

She has been an advisor for the first robotics program in Westmont and a tutor in Math, Physics and Statics at Pitt-Johnstown.  Shannon was recognized as the 2017 College Scholar in Mechanical Engineering Technology.

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Ashley Grego, our first Multimedia and Digital Culture Program graduate

Ashley is deeply invested in the Johnstown area. She writes blogs about Johnstown destinations, including reviews of businesses and eateries. Ashley also contributes to the humanities by presenting her research at peer-reviewed academic conferences, including state and regional communication conferences and state English conferences. 

Her academic honors include membership is the:

  • Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society
  • Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society (President)
  • Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society
  • Delta Epsilon Iota Society
  • Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society

In addition, she is the recipient of the Blanche & Ruth Heffley academic scholarship.

Ashley took full advantage of experiential learning opportunities, including a number of internships and a fellowship, which have prepared her for a career in the Real World.

One particular article that she wrote for The Tab USA titled “Everything only locals know about Johnstown, PA” had over 20,000 views.  She also had the opportunity to interview former Pittsburgh Steeler and ProBowler, Jack Ham. 

Ashley was accepted into a master’s program (in public relations) at Point Park University and is currently interviewing for a job in broadcast media.

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Kaitlyn Hoyer, Education

A graduate of the Education Division, Kaitlyn Hoyer has received a unique, remarkable opportunity that has sprung from her student teaching experience at Central Elementary School, Central Cambria School District, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

Kaitlyn has received an offer from the Central Cambria School District to join their professional staff in the fall for next school year.  She will be given a paid internship position as part of the school’s reading program.  What is most impressive is Central Cambria’s investment in the continuing education of Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn plans to study at the Master’s Degree level in a Pennsylvania university, where she will focus on becoming a Pennsylvania Department of Education certified Reading Specialist.  The school district has committed to paying her full tuition for the program.

“We do not want to let her go,” noted Jason Moore, the district’s curriculum director.  “The principal and faculty love her attitude and work efforts.  I met her when I was conducting ‘mock interviews’ as part of Pitt Johnstown’s program, and I was mightily impressed with her positive attitude and maturity level as a professional.

Pitt Johnstown Professor, Natalie Conrad Barnyak, represents the entire Pitt-Johnstown education division faculty with her comment, saying, “Kaitlyn has always been an exemplary teacher candidate throughout her coursework and field practica experiences.  She has outstanding rapport with school students, colleagues, and college professors.

When Miss Hoyer was student teaching at Central she went far above and beyond what was expected from a student teacher.  She attended planning meetings ay many levels of the operation and several outcomes are attributed to her leadership.  One of those outcomes was the development of a new system for kindergarten registration, which the school is currently implementing.  As a classroom teacher, albeit one who was in training, she was often used as quasi-mentor teacher for practicing teachers in areas of the curriculum, which she has already mastered.

Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Interim Division stated that Kaitlyn Hoyer represents the best of what the nation’s top teachers have to offer our profession.

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Sarah Dikum, Mechanical Engineering

Sarah Dikum is graduating in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. Sarah has accepted a position with the United States Peace Corps in Tanzania for two years.

Sarah will be teaching Mathematics (and Physics) to students who are 12-20 years old. Sarah is very excited to share her skills and passion in another country.

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