ALUMNI

There is no better testament to the influence The Challenge Program, Inc. and supporting businesses have on high school students than the success stories of graduated students who have won awards or received recognition from The Challenge Program, Inc. throughout their high school years.

The young adults here applied The Challenge Program, Inc. initiatives to their lives and have agreed to share their stories. Click on each name to read about where they are, now.

 

Olivia Cortese, Registered Nurse at Wheeling Hospital

Mario Crocetti, Operations Tech at Williams

Tyler Doppelheuer, Project Management Analyst at BlackTree Healthcare Consulting

Matthew Fox, Facilities Engineer at Rice Energy, Inc.

Alyse Holliday, M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis

Jeffery Huggins, Shop Mechanic at FirstEnergy

Stephen Huggins, Maintenance Operator at Dynegy, Inc.

Ethan Keedy, Co-owner, Keedy's Pizzeria, Connellsville City Council Member

Chad King, Shondaland (Production Company)

Damian Mosher, Medical Student at LECOM

Kayla Pongrac, Freelance Writer

Stephen Shiring, PhD candidate at Georgia Tech

Jacquelyn Wiggins, College Student & Volunteer Firefighter

Amy Varmecky, Graduate Student - Penn State Harrisburg

Olivia Cortese
Academic Excellence Award Winner
Conemaugh Township High School
Registered Nurse at Wheeling Hospital

Oliva won the Academic Excellence award her sophomore year for having the highest G.P.A. in her class. With her award money, she and her sister (also a former Challenge Program winner) paid it forward by purchasing small gifts to make Christmas gift boxes for the mothers at Mom’s House in Johnstown, PA. Olivia recalls that it felt “great” to be able to give back to her community, thanks to her Challenge Program award money.

Olivia became an intern for The Challenge Program, Inc. for two summers during her high school career, leading our student advisory board and a variety of communications projects.

Olivia continued to strive for excellence throughout high school, graduating valedictorian and earning a full scholarship to UPJ. There, she continued her excellent academic record, graduating summa cum laude from the UPJ Nursing Program in April 2015.

Now, Olivia is employed as a full time registered nurse at Wheeling Hospital in Wheeling, WV. She works on a cardiovascular step down unit, with hopes of transferring to the intensive care unit soon. Her ultimate goal is to become a nurse anesthetist.

Mario Crocetti
Attendance Winner – 2007
Connellsville Area High School
Operations Tech at Williams

Mario’s path to workforce success started with coming to high school every day, an achievement that earned him TCP’s attendance award. Though he went on to major in political science at Saint Vincent College, he soon discovered after graduating that it was difficult to find a job in his field. Mario remembered TCP coming to his school and being introduced to careers in the oil and gas industry, so Mario reached out to Mary Dreliszak, Director of Program Development and Public Relations, for advice. Mary suggested that Mario attend a gas well training program at Steel Center AVTS to prepare him for a career in the energy industry. After completing the program, Mario quickly found a job with Baker Hughes, Inc. in Mount Pleasant. He was then invited to TCP’s Natural Gas Appreciation reception, where he caught the attention of his current supervisor at Williams, who offered him a job at the reception. He has been working with Williams as an Operations Tech for the past three years. “Some of the best advice and help in making the most of my education and career has come from TCP,” notes Mario.

Tyler Doppelheuer
Community Service Winner – 2007-’09
Academic Excellence Winner – 2007
Connellsville Area High School
Project Management Analyst at BlackTree Healthcare Consulting

Tyler exemplifies TCP’s mission of excelling “both in and out of the classroom.” In addition to being at the top of his class as a high school sophomore, Tyler spearheaded community service projects with organizations like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and Special Olympics. For his hard work in school and in the community, Tyler won both TCP’s Academic Excellence and Community Service awards. After winning his awards, Tyler became a dedicated advocate for TCP, spreading the program’s message and encouraging his fellow students to compete for TCP awards. He studied at Penn State University and now works as a Marketing Manager at Ryland Homes in Philadelphia. This year, Tyler became the first TCP award winner to pay it forward by making a generous contribution in support of the program. His note to staff was short and sweet: “I have been meaning to do this for some time. The program helped me, now it is time to help it.”

Matthew Fox
Best GPA Winner, 2007
Waynesburg-Central High School
Facilities Engineer for Rice Energy, Inc.

Matthew won the Best GPA Award (now the Academic Excellence Award) as a sophomore at Waynesburg Central High School. He says that earning the award gave him the confidence to enter the engineering program at Grove City College, a decision that has led him to a successful career in the energy industry. Matthew is currently employed by Rice Energy, Inc. as a Facilities Engineer, where he designs, sizes, and implements all of the company’s production facilities to produce Marcellus & Utica wells in three counties. Thanks for helping to fuel our region, Matthew!

Alyse Holliday
Academic Improvement Winner, 2006
Greater Johnstown High School
M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis (Penn State University)

Like many high school students, Alyse needed a little extra push during her high school career to boost her academic performance. She credits TCP for giving her “that extra motivation” to bring her grades up and turn her high school career around. Alyse won TCP’s Academic Improvement award and went on to serve as President of TCP’s Student Advisory Board. After graduation, she attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, where she decided to pay it forward by establishing a mentor program called Dickinson’s Educational Enrichment Program (DEEP). She earned a graduate degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Penn State University.

Jeffery Huggins
Community Service Award Winner, 2010
Greene County CTC
Shop Mechanic at FirstEnergy

Jeffery won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Community Service Award in the 2009/2010 school year for his outstanding range of volunteer work in his local community. His list of service work included volunteering as a farm hand, playing piano for his church, helping neighbors with chores and home upkeep, picking up litter, and lending a hand to his neighbors at D&D Auto. Jeffery says helping others is “a real joy.” He is still actively donates his time to helping his neighbors and his community.

Jeffery is currently employed as a Shop Mechanic at FirstEnergy and is thankful for his instructors and the SKILLS program at Greene County CTC for preparing him for his job.

Stephen Huggins
Academic Excellence, 2008 & 2009
Greene County CTC
Maintenance Operator at Dynegy, Inc.

Stephen won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Best GPA Award (now the Academic Excellence Award) during his sophomore and junior years at Greene County CTC. He continued his superior performance in the classroom his senior year, achieving a 4.0 GPA. Of his experience with The Challenge Program, Inc., Stephen writes, “It was a great honor and encouragement to receive these awards.”

Stephen now works as a maintenance operator for the Dynegy gas power plant in Masontown, PA. We’re grateful for all his work in helping to power our region!

Ethan Keedy
Community Service Winner – 2011
Connellsville Area High School
Co-owner, Keedy’s Pizzeria
Connellsville City Council member

Few high school students are as committed to improving their local communities as Ethan Keedy. As a high school sophomore, Ethan volunteered more than 860 hours and was chosen as the recipient of TCP’s Community Service award. Instead of spending his award money on himself, Ethan used it to coordinate the first annual Connellsville Walkathon to benefit improvements to the city’s East Park. For his exceptional volunteerism, Ethan was also honored as TCP’s inaugural Student of the Year. “TCP’s Community Service Award was the first award that I received for volunteering and I was humbled that someone noticed that I am trying so hard to make a change in this world,” he notes.

Today, Ethan is a junior at Seton Hill University majoring in history with a minor in business. Last summer, at the age of 20, Ethan and his twin brother, Nick, opened Pizza Louie’s (now Keedy’s Pizzeria) in Connellsville, Pa. He is a member of Connellsville City Council and has big plans to run for a Pennsylvania state representative seat and eventually, President of the United States in 2032.

Chad King
Academic Excellence Winner – 2009
Bishop McCort High School
Assistant to Director of Development

When Chad King won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Academic Excellence award his sophomore year, he made an early investment that would set his career in motion: he used his award money to attend a four-day summer filmmakers camp at Penn State University. Prior to the camp, Chad’s knowledge of filmmaking was self-taught. The camp allowed him to get his hands on some professional equipment and meet teenagers with similar interests.

Upon returning for his junior year of high school, Chad stayed involved with The Challenge Program, Inc., serving on our Student Advisory Board. Reflecting back on his experience, Chad says, “The Challenge Program, Inc. taught me the value of community engagement and collaboration. Being a part of the Challenge Program, Inc. Student Advisory Board taught me how to work with others to achieve big-picture results.”

Flash forward six years. Chad’s short film, Williamsport wins 2nd place at the 2015 Johnstown Film Festival. After learning the ins and outs of the entertainment business and making valuable connections as an assistant at The Gersh Agency in Beverly Hills, Chad is now living his dream working for the Director of Development at Shondaland–the production company responsible for ABC’s TGIT lineup, including hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and The Catch. Driven and determined, Chad attributes his success thus far to his early participation in The Challenge Program, Inc. “I know I would not be here without my stand-out work ethic that I developed while working with The Challenge Program, Inc. in high school.”

Damian Mosher
Community Service Winner – 2009, 2010
Conemaugh Township High School
Medical Student at LECOM, Erie, PA

Damian won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Community Service Award at Conemaugh Township in 2010 for volunteering with his local fire department. Says Damian of his experience: “The Challenge Program, Inc. was an excellent way to motivate myself (and my fellow classmates) to reach out to our community. With dozens of students working to improve their community, the program has a positive impact on the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.” Damian also notes that his volunteer work helped to solidify his interest in medicine. He is currently a first year medical student at LECOM in Erie, PA, with plans to become an emergency medical physician.

Kayla Pongrac
Community Service Winner – 2006, 2007, 2008
Shade-Central City High School
Freelance Writer

Kayla’s career as a professional and creative writer started with The Challenge Program, Inc. (TCP). After winning our community service award, Kayla wrote a thank-you letter to her school’s business partner to express her appreciation for the award. The letter was so impressive that it resulted in her being invited to attend a luncheon, where she was asked to read the letter in front of local businessmen. In the crowd was an editor for The Somerset Daily American, who hired her on the spot to begin writing a bi-weekly column for the newspaper. After graduation, Kayla studied Writing at the University Pittsburgh at Johnstown and now enjoys a successful career as a freelance writer for a number of local publications, including Our Town, Windber Magazine, Somerset Magazine, and Richland Magazine. She still regularly contributes to the Daily American as a news correspondent. “Without TCP, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Kayla. “It was through this wonderful organization that my career as a writer traveled skyward . . . and I am forever grateful.”

Stephen Shiring
Community Service Winner – 2007
Ford City Jr./Sr. High School
PhD candidate at Georgia Tech, computational materials chemistry

Stephen won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Community Service Award as a student at Fod City Junior/Senior High School (now part of Armstrong Junior/Senior High School). He says earning the award affirmed the work he was doing in his community. “…It showed me that others within my community recognized and valued my efforts. I realized that any amount of volunteer work and community service can have a powerful impact, and this realization propelled me to continually become involved in community service throughout my career as an undergraduate and graduate student.” Stephen is currently I am currently a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Ga working on his PhD in computational materials chemistry.

Jacquelyn Wiggins
Community Service Winner, 2013
Monessen High School
College Student, Volunteer Firefighter

Jacquelyn won The Challenge Program, Inc.’s Community Service Award in 2013 at Monessen High School for her outstanding service as a volunteer firefighter with Monessen Hilltop Volunteer Fire Department Number 2. She says her experience with the Program taught her “that there is a lot of opportunities to make a difference in the world. By winning this award it showed not only me but others that there is time to help your community in any way possible.” Jacquelyn is still an active volunteer firefighter and is currently enrolled in college with hopes of becoming a police officer.

Amy Varmecky
Academic Excellence Winner, 2010
Community Service Winner, 2012
Richland High School
Graduate Studies in Clinical Psychology

I received the Academic Excellence Award during my sophomore in high school, and was both shocked and humbled. I was unaware that my information was submitted to The Challenge Program, and was greatly surprised when my name was called. This award propelled me to continue my hard work and dedication to education as it showed that my work ethic was not unnoticed. After earning the Community Service Award during my senior year, it encouraged me to continue doing what I love, which is helping others around me with whatever they need. The Challenge Program allowed me to continue striving for excellence and success both in college and in my community. It solidified that the behaviors and attitude I already displayed were appropriate and beneficial in my life.

Amy had received a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown where she has graduated with a psychology degree. She is currently a graduate student at Penn State Harrisburg working towards a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. After her 2018 graduation, Amy plans to earn her license and work with children, adolescents and their families. Her plans are to move back to Johnstown, PA to begin her career.