Brandywine senior plays important role on campus

Since January 2010, senior American Studies major and Schreyer Honors Scholar Eileen Fresta has been a significant member of the Penn State Brandywine community. Her participation in civic engagement, academic achievements and undergraduate research successes has given her recognition as one of the most talented and involved students on campus.   

Fresta had the opportunity to present her research and senior honor thesis titled "Charting the Health History of Middletown Township, Pennsylvania, through a Study of the Cumberland Cemetery Interment Records" during the Pennsylvania Historical Association's (PHA) annual meeting in November. The PHA honored Fresta with the Outstanding Poster Award, which is given annually to graduate and undergraduate students who present their research as evolving scholars in the field of Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic history.

She worked on her research during her involvement with the historic Cumberland Cemetery in Media. Fresta interned with the cemetery during the summer and had the opportunity to study the cemetery's interment records that dated back to the 1800s. She was able to transfer the information into a computer program for further analysis, which included Delaware County residents' date of birth, date of death, cause of death and where they where living at the time.  

"It was interesting," she said. "It's a cultural reflection of what was going on in Middletown Township at the time. I was happy to win the award and it was a very nice recognition."

Fresta was also able to present her findings at the Eastern American Studies Association's (EASA) annual conference in March and became the first Penn State Brandywine student inducted into the EASA's honor society, Epsilon Alpha Kappa.

Assistant Professor of History at Penn State Brandywine Julie Gallagher attended the EASA's conference and was delighted to see Fresta's hard work pay off. "I am really proud to see our student's accomplishments being recognized and the Eastern American Studies Association's honor society is a wonderful example of that recognition," Gallagher explained. "I think the American Studies program is a really great major here and it's nice to see our students getting this exposure."

During her three-and-a-half years at Penn State Brandywine Fresta has been named to the Dean's List every semester and has been honored with seven different awards for her strong academic performance, undergraduate research, leadership in civic engagement and volunteer efforts. Most recently she was presented with the Undergraduate Faculty and Student Research Award during Brandywine's Academic Recognition Ceremony on Tuesday, March 26. The award is presented to an outstanding faculty mentor and a student for their contributions to undergraduate research at Penn State Brandywine.

"Participating in undergraduate research here at Brandywine has been a great experience for me. It was not something I ever thought I would be doing when I decided to go back to school three years ago," she said. "Receiving the Undergraduate Student Research Award was an amazing honor!  I know that none of my research would have been possible without the encouragement and assistance of my professors at Penn State Brandywine."

Fresta has also taken advantage of the opportunity to help others in the community and around the world. Her involvement has inspired others and has created a caring culture at Brandywine.   

She has served as president of the Brandywine Adult Student Club for the past year, which has made numerous contributions to the community. The club recently teamed up with Philabundance in the "Spread the Love" campaign, which is dedicated to providing food for families in the Delaware Valley region by collecting jars of peanut butter and jelly. By setting up collection boxes on campus and holding fundraisers, the club was able to collect 115 jars for hungry families in the area.       

Her commitment to civic engagement has not only aided the local community, it has had a positive influence on different places around the globe. During her Foundations of Civic and Community Engagement course at Brandywine, Fresta and fellow classmates were able to raise more than $3,000 for a Haiti relief project. The class also supplied 50 drawstring schoolbags packed with school supplies for children in the country after it was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.    

When asked about her involvement in the Haiti relief project she said, "It was wonderful! It felt great to see the other students and the community so excited, they really got behind it."

After graduating in May, Fresta plans to attend graduate school, where she will study American studies. Her goal is to one day bring history and technology together to help the subject become more appealing to younger generations. 

-by Mike McDade