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If at First You Don't Succeed: Campus Alum Seizes a Second Chance at Success

Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa
Ken Radzieta stands on Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa
5/22/2012 —

With just a few summer credits left to earn, Ken Radzieta will graduate from Penn State in August with a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in geography.  He has carried a grade point average of either 4.0, or close to it, for much of his time as a student.  However, it's been a long journey for the 30 year old DuBois native. He failed out of the university on his first attempt as a traditional age student.  Looking back, Radzieta now tells a story of hope, and personal inspiration; and has proven to himself that, at one time or another, everyone deserves a second chance.


"It was a combination of distractions," Radzieta remembered of his first years in college.  "I was more interested in social life than I was in academic life."  


Radzieta first enrolled at Penn State DuBois in the fall of 2000, at the age of 18.  After transferring to University Park, his time as a student ended in the fall of 2005.  Getting word that his grades would not allow him to continue at Penn State, Radzieta said, was a wakeup call. 


"The first thing I told myself was that I'm going back," said Radzieta.  However, he had to ride out Penn State's process of academic renewal, which requires a four year waiting period before reenrollment is allowed.  "For that four year waiting period, life kind of had to stop for me," he said. 


During that time, Radzieta continued to live in State College, taking a job at the Center Daily Times newspaper, working in the circulation and advertising departments at different times.  From there, he went to work at Home Depot.  While he was paying the bills, Radzieta still wanted more out of life, and kept waiting for the chance to go back to college.


"One thing that motivated me is that I watched all of my friends advancing through life; graduating, getting their master's, starting careers," Radzieta said.  "Everyone else moved on, and I didn't.  I limited myself too much.  So, I decided that the next time I would grab this university and make it my own." 


The waiting period gave Radzieta the time he needed to prepare himself, as well.  He said, "A significant portion of those four years was dedicated to reinventing myself."


He began exercising, running every day, and shed many pounds that he said he put on due to a previously unhealthy lifestyle.  He joined back up with his Army Reserve unit in St. Marys, that he had previously served with.  There, he rose to the rank of sergeant.   He also became involved with the Civil Air Patrol in the State College area, and ended up leading their cadet program.  He took on the same level of responsibility at work, and continued his full time employment at Home Depot.


In the fall of 2010, Radzieta was ready to give Penn State another try. 


"My first day back at school, I had butterflies in my stomach," he remembered.  "There was now an age difference between me and the other students.  I was in a room filled with 18 year olds." 


The butterflies soon passed, however, as Radzieta became aware that many other adult learners, in fact, are enrolled at Penn State.  He also became used to his new role as an adult student.  He said, "As an adult learner, I wanted to contribute to the classroom."  Which he did, using the life experience he had gained during the academic renewal waiting period. 


As he continued to work full time and go to college, Radzieta also remained dedicated to his Army Reserve and Civil Air Patrol duties.  With much more outside responsibility, he said life as a returning adult student has been much different than life as a traditional age student.  In fact, the differences helped to keep him on track.  He said, "For me, it has been a lot different.  It's the time management that comes into play.  I had no opportunity to waste time any more.  So, every decision I made was made with my future in mind." 


One of the best of those decisions, Radzieta said, was seizing the opportunity to study abroad with Penn State's Parks and People program.  He spent 10 weeks this spring in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, studying and working at a nature reserve, and completing his geography minor.  The Parks and People program integrates teaching, research and service across multiple disciplines related to the management of protected areas, community, social and economic development, and public education in ecosystem services.  Not only did the experience provide academic benefits, but Radzieta said it opened his eyes to global needs and service work.


"It gave me an entirely different lens to view the world through," Radzieta said.  "They took students who live in a very privileged country, and took us to a place where it can be first and third world almost at the same time. It changes the way you look at things here." 

Part of the appreciation he now has for the U.S. comes not just from observing the culture in South Africa, but from becoming a part of it for a short time.


"It's not even exposure to another culture, its cultural emersion," Radzieta said.  "This wasn't a typical study abroad trip where you stay in a nice hotel and eat at nice restaurants.  For 20 days, I lived on a nature reserve, in a cottage with no electricity."

During this time, he also worked with children at the local schools, and learned some of their native language of Xhosa. 


Now, with international travel under his belt, and a bachelor's degree almost in his grasp, Radzieta is weighing his options for the future.  He may continue to get his master's degree.  He may pursue a career in education.  He has the summer to think about it.  One thing, however, he is certain of.  He said, "After going through everything I've been through, and to do what I have now done, I feel like I can do anything." 

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