Jamie Russell, Class of 2006
Associate of Science in Human Development and Family Studies
Class of 2012
Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies
Family Engagement Coordinator, York County Human Services
“Some of the most supporting professional relationships I’ve had have stemmed from my work at Penn State York. They’re good connections.”
Jamie Russell thought that she’d be a preschool teacher forever, but when she began her associate of science degree in human development and family studies (HDFS) at Penn State York, she discovered a new career path for her future.
“I started out at a child care center in East York,” Russell said. “When I finished my associate’s degree, I moved to working with higher-risk youth. That was a good introduction to social work because it was a balance between working with the children — teaching preschool and doing developmental activities — while working alongside the parents who would come in the classroom and volunteer some of their time. We also linked them to resources in the community. Wanting to do more with the children and their families is what made that shift.”
After completing her associate degree and discovering her interest in social work, Russell returned to Penn State York to earn a bachelor’s degree in HDFS, which she completed in 2012. She then went on to earn a dual master’s degree in social work and emergency management from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
“Having professional references from Penn State York professors helped me get into the graduate program at Millersville,” she said. “I interned with my current employer during my time as an undergraduate. My Penn State York professors were vital for me to make the transition to my current role.”
Russell currently works at York County Human Services, which encompasses children/youth services, mental health intellectual and developmental disabilities (MHIDD), early intervention, drug and alcohol management, and other service units.
“In my office, I often get pulled in to do family engagement meetings. When our clients are hitting a tough patch and we need to engage family to pull in that natural support system, that’s when I get drawn into things. For example, if there’s a neglect or abuse situation in a child or youth case, we try to pull the family together to identify family care rather than place the child in foster care,” Russell said.
In addition to having gained experience through her internship, Russell continues to apply her knowledge from the HDFS program in her daily work.
“The developmental theories in the HDFS program were key in my understanding of different walks of life,” said Russell. “Many of the social issues we see are often rooted in early childhood and interruptions in development, so you can see how that early track — whether it goes smooth or rough — can really impact things later in life. So those theories are where I see my roots in terms of my professional work. I think it’s grounding to understand those developmental processes and the things that can interfere. Those are really good guides for addressing the needs of individuals.”
Russell emphasized the importance of maintaining an open mind when studying HDFS.
“Remain teachable,” she said. “You’re going to learn so much about the way children and families develop and how different walks of life and systems impact young children and families. Remaining teachable is huge. Being open minded to somebody else’s experience is typically key to being supportive of children and families.”
Russell’s experience as an adult learner also helped her find surprising benefits to studying part time while working full time.
“It’s never too late to start school,” said Russell. “Being an adult learner is hard, it’s different, you do tend to be the oldest person in the class. I did full-time work and part-time school, but one of the benefits of doing that was I retained so much information. Working in the field, applying the skills that I was learning while I was learning them helped me retain more than I ever would have trying to get through the degree full time. So even though it feels longer, there are huge benefits to being an adult learner and the level of support at Penn State York is a beautiful thing. With the smaller class sizes, I never had an issue getting a professor to meet with me or talk with me, even if it had to be outside of their office hours. The level of support is still there.”
There’s also no standard timeline for completing a degree, according to Russell.
“It took me ten years to complete my bachelor’s degree. I took a year in between my associate’s and my bachelor’s because of a work transition, but it’s more than doable. It’s work, but the other benefit of being an adult learner is when you’re doing what you love, it’s easy. And as an adult, you have that figured out a little more. HDFS gave me so many experiences and is a very versatile degree. So if you want to do early childhood or social work or criminal justice or any of the other helping professions, that base for lifespan development and family theory is so helpful to all of that other work. It opens some doors.”
Juanita Baxter, Class of 2020
Manager for WellSpan Community Health Central Region, York County
“The very first day I started my classes at Penn State York, I walked by the Nittany Lion and felt this great sense of pride. I remember thinking to myself that, at the age of 39, I was finally a college student.”
Juanita Baxter’s journey to receiving a post-secondary education was different than most, and was not always an easy one.
“Working full time, going to school part-time, and being a mom was hard,” Baxter said. “I didn’t have much time to participate in things.”
Yet she persisted. While raising the youngest of her five children, working full-time, and attending college simultaneously, Baxter graduated in 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies.
“For a long time, I did not know when I would finish college,” Baxter said. “I just decided to focus on the classes each semester and keep plugging away. Next thing I knew, I only needed a few credits to graduate!”
For Baxter, Penn State York’s locality and class schedules helped balance her work schedule and raise her youngest daughter, who was still at home.
“Earning a degree so close to home allowed me to tap into my village to help me with my youngest daughter, who was not old enough to stay home by herself yet,” she said. “Penn State York also allowed me to attend classes that were only offered during the day because it was so close to my job, so I could easily make up any time I used away from the office.”
Despite her setbacks and struggles, Penn State York gave her a second chance to acquire the education she always wanted.
“Having a Penn State campus in York allowed me to attend a well-known institution right in my hometown,” Baxter said. “I am now a proud alumna!”
Shortly after graduating in 2020, Baxter transitioned into her current manager position for WellSpan Community Health Central Region in York County, and is preparing to get married in October 2023. She has since made efforts to give back to the community. Baxter served on the board of directors for the York County Literacy Council and The Program: It's About Change, assisted in the development of a gun violence reduction project with York City Group Violence Intervention (GVI), and is a longtime volunteer with United Way of York County.
“My advice to anyone about succeeding is, if it is something they really want to do, just get started and take one thing, one class, one project, one test at a time,” Baxter reflects. “It was definitely worth it for me. I learned so much that I never would have if I didn’t go to Penn State York.”