TRIO Mentor Program

Students with mentors are more likely to be succesful in college. The TRIO Mentor Program connects first-generation students with staff and faculty mentors who offer academic, professional, and personal support.

Connect me with a mentor 

Need help? Contact the Department of TRIO Student Support Services at 724-938-4230 or email Laura Giachetti at



Dr. Holiday Adair
Psychology Department

Get to know your mentor

I come from a family of five. Both my parents were police officers, then my mom was a store clerk and my father a UPS driving trainer. I’m the only person in my immediate family (and one among four of 20 cousins) to earn a college degree.

I earned my B.A. at a large state school in Ohio. My mother paid my tuition and I paid all other expenses. I completed a B.A. in five years, working part-time throughout. My doctorate is in counseling psychology, where my interests include the effects of empathy on psychological change, various issues of psychological measurement, and pedagogy.

William (AJ) Best
TRIO and Academic Services, Upward Bound

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in Fayette County. Neither of my parents attended college, but I always knew I would. I started at PennWest California as a Secondary Education: Mathematics major, but realized that teaching was not my passion. I changed my major to Mathematics, with a minor in Business Management.

After graduation I worked at McDonald’s and then as a business analyst at TTEC before joining TRIO and Academic Services. Because I was a program student from high school (Upward Bound) through college (SSS), this is where I am meant to be.

Azadeh M. Block
Social Work Department

Get to know your mentor

I was born in New Castle, Pa., and now I live in Pittsburgh. My husband, Ethan, and I have three sons – Jonah, Samuel and Benjamin.

My current research with Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh focuses on program evaluation for their peer support groups for the resettlement of refugees and newer immigrants in southwestern Pennsylvania. Some of the classes I teach are Social Work with Groups, Social Work with Families, Diversity in a Changing World, and Interviewing Skills for the Human Services.

Kaddour Boukaabar
Department of Math, Computer Science and Information Systems

Get to know your mentor

I’m a professor of mathematics and director of the Vulcan Learning Commons, which offers tutoring services for PennWest California students. I came to PennWest California in 1997.

Tyton Brunner
Office of Academic Success

Get to know your mentor

Growing up in the foster care system at a young age has given me a unique outlook on life as a first-generation college student. Since graduating from PennWest California with a B.A. in Sports Management and a M.S. in Sports Psychology, I've learned a lot about myself and what I can offer the people I interact with on a daily basis

I played college football and had to reorganize my goals due to an injury. I work as a strength coach for a high school football team in the area. In 2019, I worked as a graduate assistant in the success center, and the experience confirmed what I'd always wanted to do with my life: helping students in their academic pursuits. I am currently pursuing credentials as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).

Peter Cormas
Department of Childhood Education

Get to know your mentor

I am a first-generation college student who is originally from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. I’ve been at PennWest California since 2013 and teach STEM education courses.

I love learning about the world and challenging myself at PennWest California and in life. In my free time, I enjoy playing bass guitar, working out, listening to live music, hanging out with my wife and friends, visiting museums, and following Pittsburgh sports teams.

Pam Delverne
Director of Technology Services for SAI

Get to know your mentor

I manage SAI’s technology and oversee PennWest California’s student TV, radio and newspaper. I’m the Computer Club adviser, too.

I was a first-generation college student in 1997, when I enrolled at PennWest California as a 35-year-old married mother of a 3-year-old. I like keeping up with science and tech news, gaming, music, movies, books, knitting, crafting, gardening and fishing. As an adopted person, I can relate to the challenges that people who don’t live with their biological parents are up against. I believe things happen for a reason and try to always keep a positive outlook.

Lisa Driscoll
Department of TRIO and Academic Services

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in Fayette County, the daughter of a coal miner and a community director. My mother received her college degree when I was in junior high. This made a major impression on me. As a result of her success, there was an expectation that my two siblings and I would get a college education.

I received my bachelor's degree from Waynesburg College and my master's from PennWest California. I started my professional career as a mental health therapist. For nearly 30 years I’ve worked in various positions with TRIO programs, both Upward Bound and Student Support Services. I have a passion for working with first-generation students and seeing them succeed.

Dori Eichelberger
Office of Academic Success (Peer Mentoring)

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I started out in college as “undecided” and completed my undergraduate degree in psychology and business administration. I then went on to earn a master’s degree in community and agency counseling.

I have worked in higher education since 2001 and have been in the mentoring field since 2007, when I began working at PennWest California. I’m also a co-adviser for the first-year honor society, Alpha Lambda Delta. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family and pets, listening to music and podcasts, and reading.

Daniel Engstrom
Office of Academic Success

Get to know your mentor

I was the youngest of three children whose parents never attended college. I grew up in Youngsville, Pa., and earned a bachelor’s degree in technology education from Millersville University.

My teaching career led me to Indiana Junior High for seven years; Baoding, China, for a year; and then seven years at PennWest California in the Applied Engineering and Technology Department. Since 2012 I have been the associate vice president for Student Success.

My wife, Ronda, and I have four children – Isaiah, Joel, Danielle and Maya.

Laura Giachetti
Department of TRIO and Academic Services

Get to know your mentor

I am a proud first-generation college student! I graduated from Albert Gallatin High School and completed both my undergraduate and graduate degrees at PennWest California. I have worked in many areas of Fayette, Greene and Washington counties in my professional career as a social worker.

Since 2003 I have worked in PennWest California’s TRIO programs – Upward Bound and Student Support Services. During this time, I have worked with faculty and staff to provide services and support to first-generation, income-eligible high school and college students. I am honored to help students succeed and achieve their college and career dreams through PennWest California, like I did!

In my spare time, I enjoy adventures with my husband, three children and friends, as well as giving back to my community by volunteering for local events and serving on committees.

Rhonda Gifford
Career & Professional Development Center

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in Butler County, where my family ran a small “mom-and-pop” grocery store. My sister and I were the first in our family to go to college. I earned a B.S. in Business Administration/Marketing from IUP and worked as a retail clothing manager for a couple of years. Then I returned to IUP for an M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education. 

I’ve worked in career services at the University of Pittsburgh, Saint Vincent College and PennWest California, where I’m the director of the Career & Professional Development Center. I love food, music and cats. (I have three!)

Lisa Glasser
Office of Academic Success

Get to know your mentor

I was the first person in my family to attend college and graduate with a degree. My parents divorced when I was three, and I was raised by my single mom who was on public assistance. I graduated from Belle Vernon High School, and had no plans. I attended Sawyer Business School, where I received my associate’s degree in Travel and Hospitality Management. To help pay my bills, I purchased a house in Pittsburgh and rented out the first floor. While living in Pittsburgh and working a full-time job, I also earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Point Park University in Business Administration. I paid for all of my tuition and expenses on my own.

I joined PennWest California in the fall of 2016.  Prior to coming to California, I worked 16 years at the Federal Reserve Bank of Pittsburgh and three years at Charleroi Area School District.

My husband and I have two sons, Lorenzo and Lazer. Fun fact: Our family has eight members with names that begin with the letter "L."

Lindsay Hammond
Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies

Get to know your mentor

I’m originally from Toronto, Canada. I earned my undergraduate degree at Brock University and my master’s at Eastern Kentucky University.

Early on I devoted my career to helping athletes achieve their potential at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. During this time, I became incredibly passionate about using sport as a recovery method for newly wounded veterans. This inspired a move to pursue my Ph.D. at West Virginia University, where I was able to research the role of sport in the lives of veterans with acquired disabilities.

As a professor here at PennWest California, there is nothing I value more than guiding students on their path to success.

Toni R. Hartley
Office of Admissions

Get to know your mentor

I’m a first-gen PennWest California graduate – and also a mom, mentor, volunteer, published author, former educator and successful director. I’m a great listener and give really good advice.

 My major was business administration: finance and I’m currently in the MBA program here at PennWest California. My role in undergraduate admissions focuses on communication and educational pathways, so I can continue being a part of students’ stories as they move through their educational journey. I look forward to being a part of your journey and story.

Heidi Henry
Department of Counselor Education

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in Fayette County and was the first in my family to attend college. I went to a small, private college and felt unsure of a major, how to pay for college, etc. But I was able to rely on mentors and professors, and ultimately I graduated with honors.

I became a high school math teacher in Louisiana, completed my master’s degree at LSU, and moved to Texas to earn my Ph.D. I worked as a professional counselor in school settings for four years and in private practice and community agencies for three more. I moved back to Fayette County about one year ago and now teach at PennWest California.

Jimmy Hoover
Department of Health Science

Get to know your mentor

I am a clinical instructor in the Department of Health Science and an athletic trainer working with the football and baseball teams. I’m a first-generation college grad who came from a small town in Ohio with the idea of using education to explore the country.

Moving forward with this thought process, I completed my undergraduate degree at Slippery Rock University and my graduate degree at Utah State University. Completing my education at those institutions made me want to give back and help to mentor students as they traverse college.

Brent House
Department of English

Get to know your mentor

I’m a native of Hancock County, Miss. Prior to my years in higher education, I was a farmer who raised cattle and watermelons on my family’s farm. My father, John Bunyon House, was an avid reader when he was away from the fields, so I was influenced to begin a career in English studies.

I still miss my life on the farm, and I will return to farming when I retire from teaching. Until then, I find that farming and teaching are similar crafts, and I enjoy planting knowledge in the minds of my students at PennWest California.

Molly Jenkins
Counselor Education

Get to know your mentor

I’m a first generation college graduate from Grafton, WV.  I earned a BS in Psychology and a BA in English from West Virginia University, an MS Ed in Child Psychology from Duquesne University, and I’m currently a doctoral candidate at Indiana University of PA in Administration and Leadership.

I’ve worked with individuals and families throughout Southwestern PA and West Virginia in various behavioral health positions, including homelessness, HIV/AIDs, and autism spectrum disorders.  At PennWest California, I’m honored work with graduate Counselor Education and Social Work students on a program aimed at increasing the workforce in rural and medically underserved communities.  I’m recently married with 5 (!) rescue cats and a very patient pup.

Dr. Patricia Johnson
Department of TRIO and Academic Services

Get to know your mentor

I’ve been a faculty member in the Department of TRIO and Academic Services for the past 18 years and at the University for 21 years. I’m the tutorial coordinator and Reading Clinic director for the department.

I have  B.S. in Elementary/Early Childhood Education, a master’s degree as a reading specialist and a doctorate in educational curriculum and instruction.

I found my home in the TRIO department because there are so many students who have the opportunity to receive help and encouragement from faculty and staff there.

Nathan Knopp
Department of TRIO and Academic Services

Get to know your mentor

With a history of counseling lower socioeconomic young adults, Nathan is a champion of students who need support to realize their academic goals in college. Nathan has an open office and open ear to any student in need. On campus he is involved in various organizations and activities that continue to further student development.

You can find him many nights in the backyard having adventures with his three young children, or relaxing on the porch with his wife, Jennifer.

Meghan Larsen-Reidy
Campus Ministry

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and then headed to the state of Indiana for college. I got my master’s degree in teaching in Oregon and taught for a brief period in Alaska. Now I live and work in Pennsylvania as part of PennWest California’s campus ministry.

I am married to Tim and have two little kids, Ruth and Sam. I like being outside, trying new foods and reading.

Mario Majcen
Earth Sciences Department

Get to know your mentor

I’m an associate professor, and I mostly teach courses related to weather and climate. My research is related to severe weather.

I grew up in Croatia. I’m the first person in my family to earn a college degree, and I’m passionate about helping others achieve that goal. I can provide support with the adjustment to campus life, as well as math-, science-, computer- and technology-related problems. There are always cookies and freshly brewed coffee in my office, so stop by!

Becky McMillen
Conference Services

Get to know your mentor

I’m a proud wife and mother who has passionately pursued a career in event planning. I came to PennWest California 10 years ago, and now I’m the executive director of University Conference Services. I have a B.A. in Communications from Waynesburg College and an MBA from PennWest California. I’m enrolled in IUP’s Administration and Leadership Ph.D. program.

I started my career at a nonprofit organization near Pittsburgh. Now I lead a team of conference services professionals as they coordinate events at the Convocation Center and other facilities on campus.

Eron McMillen
TRIO and Academic Services, Upward Bound

Get to know your mentor

I work for TRIO Upward Bound as a counselor for school districts in Fayette County. For over a decade I worked with Fayette County students in grades 3-12 as a behavior specialist and dean of students in an alternative education program.

I received my B.A. in Communications from Waynesburg College and an M.S. in Exercise Science from PennWest California. I’ve been involved in Upward Bound at PennWest California as a student, resident tutor, after-school tutor and faculty member. My wife, Becky, and I have two daughters and a beagle.

Kelsey Meyers
President's Office

Get to know your mentor

I love working here at PennWest California. I was a first-generation student, a commuter and a member of the Delta Zeta sorority. I graduated in 2017 with a degree in business administration and a minor in tourism. I found my way back to PennWest California within a year of graduating. I worked temporarily with Upward Bound and TRIO, which is how I found out about this program! Since then I’ve worked for our Financial Aid Office and now the Office of the President.

I have two cats, Jax and Max, and I’m a member of the PennWest California bowling league for faculty and staff. You will find me at the gym several days a week. I love trying restaurants and traveling with my family and friends. I enjoy being outside, especially in the mountains. Hiking, swimming and kayaking are some of my favorite activities.

Keat Murray
Department of English

Get to know your mentor

I am a first-generation college graduate who earned my first degree at Shippensburg University (a PASSHE school) and my Ph.D. at Lehigh University.

I moved from eastern Pennsylvania in 2013 to teach at PennWest California, where I enjoy working with literature and composition students. I teach American literature, Native American literature and eco-critical studies and humor studies at PennWest California. I often integrate undergraduate research projects into my classes, and I am involved in planning the annual Strike a Spark conference that features student research, scholarship and creative work.

Amy Nash
PennWest California Bookstore

Get to know your mentor

As the first person in my immediate family to attend college, education has always been important to me. I earned all three of my degrees at PennWest California including, most recently, a doctorate in criminal justice. I previously worked for the Pennsylvania House of representatives, as well as in the corrections field and with a family law firm. I currently manage the PennWest California Bookstore.

My husband and I have two teen-age children, a son and a daughter. I spend my free time volunteering with their extracurricular activities and sports teams. I enjoy baseball, hockey and football. I also enjoy reading and learning about criminal justice topics and criminal behavior.

Spencer Norman
Department of Communication, Design and Culture

Get to know your mentor

I came to the U.S. from London in 2009 after stints at various graphic design studios, consulting in the virtual reality industry, and teaching at the university level. I ran my own graphic design studio in London and continue my practice here in the United States, designing for print, packaging, motion graphics and the web, title sequencing for films, and motion design for the advertising industry.

I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic information design from the University of Westminster and an M.F.A. in graphic design from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts, London. You can view my work here.

Jim Pflugh
Office of Student Conduct

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in a rural area outside Butler, Pa., and went to Lock Haven University for my bachelor’s in secondary education: social sciences. There I was involved in clubs, student government and residence life. I also worked two summers with the Upward Bound program.

I went to Kent State, in Ohio, for my master’s in history, with a minor in educational administration. I came to PennWest California in 1992, starting in Residence Life; now I run the Student Conduct Office. I’m also involved in local government and serve on several community boards.

Jennifer Ramsey
Department of TRIO and Academic Services

Get to know your mentor

I have a B.A. in Psychology from PennWest California and a Master of Social Work from West Virginia University. As an alumna of two TRIO programs, I understand firsthand the challenges that first-generation students face when pursuing higher education. For more than 20 years I’ve dedicated myself to working with underrepresented students in programs such as TRIO and Head Start.

I enjoy serving the community and spending quality time with my daughter, family and friends. Hobbies include dancing, crafting, decorating/designing, bargain shopping, attending live shows/concerts and planning events.

Amanda Rbaibi
Office of Academic Success (Scheduling Center)

Get to know your mentor

I have worked as an academic counselor for eight years. Prior to coming to California, I worked at South University for three years.

I received my M.Ed. in School Counseling in 2008 and my B.S. in Psychology in 2005 from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Candice Riley
Department of Earth Sciences

Get to know your mentor

I teach in the parks and recreation management program at PennWest California. I was born and raised in Northfork (McDowell County), W.Va., and currently live in Morgantown, W.Va.

I have two older sisters and one younger brother. My interests include cooking, bargain shopping, watching Netflix and going on scenic drives.

Carrie Schubert
Office of Academic Success (Peer Mentoring)

Get to know your mentor

I have been a staff member at PennWest California since 2017. I have a bachelor’s degree in English education from La Roche University and a master’s in higher education management from the University of Pittsburgh. As a student, I enjoyed being involved on campus and studying abroad. My positive college experience is what made me want to help other students have a great experience of their own.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and am a huge fan of the Penguins. Some of my hobbies include spending time with friends and family, binging TV shows and taking barre (exercise) classes.

Ryan Sittler
Department of Library Services

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in a farming family outside Reading, Pa., and was the first in my family to pursue higher education. I went on to earn a B.S. in Education, M.S. in Library Science, M.S. in Instructional Technology and a Ph.D. in Communications Media and Instructional Technology.

My specialties are information literacy (how we learn what information to trust), instructional technology (how to design good instruction) and educational game design. My hobbies are all related to music, games and nerd culture, particularly games like Magic: The Gathering.

Dr. Mathilda Spencer
Department of Criminal Justice

Get to know your mentor

I grew up with my mom and two brothers in the projects on the North Side of Pittsburgh. I graduated from Pittsburgh Public Schools and attended Upward Bound while I was there. In Upward Bound I had many new experiences that included the joy of education.

My overall goal has always been to help people, and I continue that desire now with my students.

Dr. John Paul "JP" Staszel
Department of Music and Theater

Get to know your mentor

I direct productions in the Theatre Department and teach courses in theatre history, dramatic literature, acting and creative dramatics. In 2017 I completed my doctorate in theatre and performance studies at Bowling Green State University. I also have degrees in business and certificates in performance studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

I’ve trained with several renowned theatre companies and international artists. In my spare time I enjoy relaxing with family, attending sporting events and planning future expeditions.

Dr Laura Tuennerman
Department of history, politics, Society and Law

Get to know your mentor

My sister and I were the first in our extended family to go to college. I came from a high school where only about 10% of students went on to college, so my counselors weren’t very helpful. But I was fortunate to end up in a good college, with some fine faculty members. I was a success, going on to graduate school and eventually getting a Ph.D. in history.

I‘ve been teaching at PennWest California for 21 years. I have two college-aged daughters, and I spent about a decade raising them as a single mom. I teach about the history of identity – gender, race, ethnicity and class. My favorite class to teach is Global Women’s History.

Kimberly Woznack
Department of Chemistry and Physics

Get to know your mentor

I grew up in upstate New York and went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After two years doing a postdoctoral appointment at the University of New Hampshire, I started teaching at PennWest California, where I’m a professor in the Chemistry and Physics Department.

I’m the adviser for the Chemistry Club and the Women in Science Club. I live locally with my husband and two sons.

M. Scott Zema
Department of Health Science

Get to know your mentor

I’ve been involved in education and athletics at the collegiate level for more than 20 years. I’ve taught courses in exercise science/athletic training, as well as freshman seminar.

At PennWest California, I oversee athletics healthcare for the Vulcans NCAA II Athletics Department, and I’m a very strong advocate for student learning.