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Kirk Manson with his kids prior to graduation in 2009.

When Kirk Manson, 42, of Cranberry Township walked across Penn State Beaver’s stage in May 2009, the years of struggling to complete his degree melted away. Only one thing mattered: His 9-year-old daughter’s opinion. "Daddy, I've never been more proud of you in my whole life,” Tori Manson told her father. Suddenly, it was all worth it.

That’s the story for many of the Beaver campus adult learners who work hard and make numerous sacrifices in order to earn a college degree.

For some, the motivation is their need to advance their careers. For others, it’s the prestige of a Penn State degree. Still, for nearly all adult learners, the desire to complete what they started - or to start what they’ve put off for too long - is the most rewarding accomplishment of all.

In 2004, at the age of 38, Manson decided to finish what he’d started in 1989: his Penn State bachelor’s degree. He enrolled as a part-time communications student at Beaver campus and, five years later on a beautiful May evening, he received the degree he’d set out to get so long ago.

As a veteran, Manson enrolled at Penn State University Park in 1989 as a film and video major. There he met his wife, Julie, and life took a different turn.

They married, and Manson left Penn State in 1991 to move to Erie where he worked for ABC News as a news and sports photographer. He continued that work when he moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 and worked for WTAE-TV Channel 4 and FOX 53.

He’s been a freelance television photographer and owner of H2Video since 1994.

Despite his success in television, Manson said he felt something was missing and knew it was his Penn State degree. He realized that Penn State Beaver would be able to provide him with the communications degree he wanted while allowing him to continue to work full-time and raise his three children with Julie. 

“Penn State Beaver was the ideal campus for me. It offers so much for so many students of any age," Manson said.

Financial aid and scholarships are available to support adults in their return to the classrooms. In addition, new federal G.I. Bill benefits can provide significant financial support to veterans who qualify.

Any trepidation that Manson had as an adult returning to school quickly vanished. "The faculty members at Beaver are incredible,” he said. “They really welcomed me warmly into their classrooms, and I felt at home right away.”

As an adult learner, Manson wasn’t alone. Penn State Beaver has about 100 adult learners in its enrollment of 900.

“It was fun and interesting to attend class with other adult students as well as traditional-age students. The students’ backgrounds were often very different than mine, but that made my experiences in the classroom even more interesting and enlightening,” Manson said.

“I know the faculty looked to me to provide my ‘real life’ experiences for classes,” he added. “They relied on me for input, and my opinions were always welcome.”

For now, Manson will continue his work with H2Video and his freelance photography, but with his Penn State communications degree, his options are wide open.

“I like being able to put my bachelor’s degree down when listing my qualifications and background now. And knowing it’s a Penn State degree really means something. It’s a name everyone recognizes, both here and around the world,” he said.

In addition to Tori, Manson and his wife are also the parents of Abbie, 6, and Jake, 3, all of whom saw Kirk graduate in May.

“When Tori told me how proud she was of me at commencement, I was tremendously moved. What a powerful thing to hear your child say,” Manson said.

“It was one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ things you never forget. Penn State Beaver made that moment possible for me, and for that I’ll always be so grateful.”

 

Originally written by Amy M. Krebs for the Penn State Beaver Nittany News alumni magazine, Fall 2009