Road to Commencement: Dana Hallahan

Brandywine honors student builds leadership skills through campus involvement
A female stands in front of a fireplace holding a laptop.

Penn State Brandywine biology major Dana Hallahan has built her leadership skills serving as president or co-president of several campus organizations.

Credit: Dan Z. Johnson

Like many of her classmates, Dana Hallahan was drawn to Penn State Brandywine by the University’s reputation, the small campus feel and the location close to her home. Although she originally planned to complete her degree at University Park through the 2+2 program, Hallahan found Brandywine to be the “right fit” for her, and the campus’ academic and leadership opportunities motivated her to stay for four years.

Hallahan will graduate on May 6 with a bachelor of science degree in biology and minors in human development and family studies and gerontology. She said her interest in biology — specifically genetics — started in ninth grade, although her two minors are in subject areas she didn’t anticipate at the beginning of her college career.

During her time at Brandywine, Hallahan has been among the most active students. She served as president of the campus Lion Ambassadors, co-president of the Brandywine Events and Activities Student Team and co-president of THON. She has also been an orientation leader, peer mentor and member of the academic integrity committee, in addition to completing research as part of the Schreyer Honors program.

“Brandywine has given me so many opportunities,” Hallahan said. “I’ve been able to develop my leadership skills through my campus positions as well as increase my public speaking and listening skills by attending conferences.”

“Brandywine has given me so many opportunities. I’ve been able to develop my leadership skills through my campus positions as well as increase my public speaking and listening skills by attending conferences.”

—Dana Hallahan , Penn State Brandywine biology major

“I've learned that I can make friends very quickly,” she added. “I thought it would be really hard when I first started college, but having the opportunity to join many clubs and go to events made it easy. Everyone is just so kind here at Brandywine that it was really easy to build a good network of peers, professors and staff.”

Two highlights of her time on campus were serving as the tour guide for new Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi on her first visit to Brandywine in May 2022 and representing Brandywine on the Beaver Stadium field during a football game as part of All-U Day.

Her greatest accomplishment, she said, was completing her Schreyer Honors thesis, titled “Selective Blocking of Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels in the Frog Optic Nerve,” which she accomplished under the guidance of Associate Professor of Biology Elizabeth Dudkin.

“My advisor, Dr. Dudkin, has worked closely with the visual system in frogs,” Hallahan said. “When I was considering an honors advisor, I immediately thought about Dr. Dudkin. When we looked more into my thesis topic, we realized that we could blend frogs and genetics into one project. It was a happy medium. And I got to learn more about her research, and she got to learn more about genetics. It was pretty cool for both of us.”

In addition to Dudkin, Hallahan said she received strong support over the past four years from Bill Tyson, director of strategic communications, who connected her with leadership opportunities; Tina Brackett-Wood, coordinator of co-curricular programs, who supported student events; and Kari Berton, admissions counselor, who is the advisor for the Lion Ambassadors.

After graduation, Hallahan plans to work for a year or two to gain experience in the biology field before attending graduate school for genetic research. Her advice for incoming students is to stay on top of their work, but to balance work and fun.

“Take every opportunity that you can,” she said. “You'll never know what you may miss or the connections you can make if you don't get involved.”