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Insight Alma Mater: Penn State

For people who grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, applying to Penn State is a no-brainer. Like so many college towns, the university is the lifeblood of our little community. Businesses follow the beats of the semester, locals (affectionately known as “townies”) plan their weekends around avoiding game day traffic, and everyone, regardless of their enrollment status, owns something with a Nittany Lion on it. I was no different. When it came time to apply to colleges, despite my eagerness to leave my hometown, I begrudgingly added Penn State to my list.


Insight Alma Mater Penn State

A childhood photo of Melina playing in front of the Old Main

I had decided early on in my high school career that I had wanted to pursue a degree in music but wanted the flexibility to explore more contemporary styles in addition to a classical education. My college list reflected that. Back when recordings and pre-screenings were less ubiquitous, applying to a program meant committing to travel for an audition and preparing to stay the entire day for theory tests, sight-singing assessments, and interviews with faculty. As a result, my college list was small, but targeted, including only a handful of programs: University of Northern Texas, Westminster Choir College, Berklee College of Music, and Penn State (my safety). Armed with a fierce determination to leave Pennsylvania behind, I began working with my studio teacher to prepare and refine my repertoire ahead of auditions.


I hadn’t seriously considered Penn State as a viable option when I submitted my application. It was local, it was convenient, and both of my parents worked there (and still do!) as professors. In short, it was boring. I changed my mind the day I set foot on campus for my audition.


Penn State was one of my first auditions, but it was the most memorable. As soon as I entered the School of Music, I was greeted by a flurry of student volunteers – familiar faces, as I had gone to high school with many of them myself. The audition room was no different. Instead of feeling nervous, I looked across the row of faculty panelists and found people I had grown up with. I had seen Dr. Spivey attend our school plays and choir concerts and Professor Jayne Glocke regularly sang in the church I attended every Sunday. I had seen Professors Trost and Kennedy perform in a beautiful trio with my then voice teacher, and Dr. Kiver had led an inspiring conducting workshop at my high school’s annual Maroon and Grey concert. When it came time for my interview and mock voice lesson, I immediately felt at ease. Even though I hadn’t attended yet, Penn State was already my community.


Starting with a comfortable audition is the best way to gear up towards the big one. But as each subsequent audition passed, I found myself coming back to reflect on that first experience. As the weeks went on, I felt a growing sense of anxiety waiting for my decision letter. So much so that even as other acceptances rolled in (including from schools I thought I was dead set on attending), I hardly felt ready to celebrate. By the time my letter from Penn State had finally arrived in the mail, my mind was made. The sense of community I felt from the Penn State School of Music ultimately drove my decision to attend.


Through my many conversations with faculty and alums, I got the sense that the music program operated as a tight-knit community. This could not have been truer. Looking back on my college experience, I have always felt supported not just by the voice faculty, but the entire School of Music. The professors are friendly, approachable, and most importantly, invested in student success – you can ask any one of them a question and receive thoughtful answers and feedback. Walking into my jury at the end of each semester (the end-of-semester performance exams), I always felt excited to share what I had been working on with the dedicated team of professors who had all helped me grow as a musician.

Penn State Music Major

Melina performing in Bach’s Lunch


Penn State is a large school, but the music department is quite small, which lends itself well to an individualized academic experience. While at Penn State, I had the opportunity conduct independent musicological research, participate in the graduate opera scenes program, premier new music, and even help found Penn State’s first vocal jazz ensemble, a feat that would not be possible without the enthusiasm and support of the faculty. Beyond that, I made life-long friends and gained valuable mentors through close contact with graduate students and upper classmen.


While I was very familiar with the University Park before attending – I was practically raised at Fenske Lab – I was delighted to re-discover the campus from a student’s perspective. There’s nothing quite like staying up late studying in the stacks at Patee, meeting up with friends at the Hub, or climbing the trees at Old Main. I was very grateful for the opportunity to explore and establish my independence in the community I had grown up in but had only recently begun to appreciate.


While I still might complain about the upsets during THON weekend and roll my eyes when tailgaters cause traffic jams downtown, I secretly (and maybe not so secretly) love it. From townie to Penn Stater to alum, Penn State is, and always will be, my home.


Written by Zach Pava

This article is written by Melina Matsoukas.

Melina works as an administrative assistant for #TeamInsight. Other than helping families and making sure everything runs smoothly, she also assists Insight’s Counseling Team in reviewing college applications during admissions season. 

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