Nontraditional student finds support, success at Abington

Abington education majors Buddy Bench

Penn State Abington senior Sue Brown, left, with Ann Martinelli, associate teaching professor of elementary and early childhood education.

Credit: Pam Brobst

ABINGTON, Pa. — Sue Brown was, by her own admission, feeling down. She had an associate’s degree and logged 15 years as a preschool Montessori teacher, but her career stalled after taking time off to care for her young son.

She turned to her pastor, whose daughter she had taught, for advice.

“My pastor said, ‘You should go back to school. You are an educator,’” Brown said. “He was right, so I started back to school.”

Since she already felt connected to Penn State through her in-laws, she applied to Penn State Abington and enrolled in its elementary and early childhood education (EECE) degree program.

Brown’s prediction for her time at Abington? 

“I expected Abington to be just a place I could come to class, earn my degree, and leave,” she said.

Was she ever wrong.

“The thing I love about Abington is it has the benefits of a large university with a wonderful reputation while being a small campus that has flexibility to help a nontraditional student like myself,” Brown said of the close-knit community.

A key reason for Brown’s passion for Abington and the EECE program is Ann Martinelli, associate teaching professor in elementary and early childhood education.

“Ann is a force to be reckoned with. She challenged me from day one and stretched my thinking. She is always professional but always engaged with her students,” Brown said. “Her courses are difficult but life-changing. She will support you, but there’s no excuses to give anything less than 100 percent. She holds you accountable for the content while helping you get there.

“The education program under Ann’s leadership is creating wonderful opportunities for future educators and is truly preparing them for the real world.”

“The thing I love about Abington is it has the benefits of a large university with a wonderful reputation while being a small campus that has flexibility to help a nontraditional student like myself.”

— Sue Brown, elementary and early childhood education major at Penn State Abington

Martinelli praised Brown's innate talent and high standards. 

“Sue is consistent, diligent and well-versed in educational theories and practices,” Martinelli said. “Watching her in an elementary classroom apply what she has learned at Abington is confirmation that she is a natural teacher.”

Brown is student teaching a kindergarten class this semester at Anne Frank Elementary in Philadelphia and then, with one more semester of required courses to complete, she plans to graduate in December. 

“My main goal is to make a difference in the lives of students — to help them find self-confidence, a love of learning, and empathy for the world around them," she said. "I would like to eventually be involved in educational policy, helping to close the gap between educational research and practice.”

As a mother who attends school full time and works, Brown credits her village, which includes her husband, with helping her accomplish her goals.

“My cohort at Abington (senior education majors) supports me and helps keep me sane, the professors are incredibly understanding that we are all insanely busy and plan the courses in a way to make them work for us, while still keeping the integrity of the course," Brown said. "There is an awesome community among the education majors and with the education professors that just makes the magic happen.”

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible, and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st century public higher education within a world-class research university. With nearly 4,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 19 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.