Joe Paterno

New chief set to lead Paterno Fellows program: History professor to continue ‘terrific opportunity’ for kids

A Penn State history professor will take over as director of the honors program started with the help of the family of former head football coach Joe Paterno.

Catherine Wanner will become director of the Paterno Fellows Program in the College of the Liberal Arts starting July 1. She succeeds English professor Jack Selzer, who will return to teaching and research under a professorship endowed by the Paterno family.

The program is designed to challenge undergraduate students academically and to give them financial support to take on internships, study-abroad programs or research projects. Students have to maintain a 3.4 GPA.

So far, 160 students have graduated from the program, which works in tandem with the Schreyer Honors College.

Selzer said students propose their project and work out the logistics with the honors adviser in their academic department.

In previous years, a male student spent a year studying at Oxford University in England, and the next summer, the student had an internship with a U.S. congressman.

A female student studied abroad in Beirut, while another female student spent six weeks doing research in Latvia.

The students are given between $1,500 and $5,000 to help defray their out-of-pocket costs.

As a requirement for the program, the students must complete a second major or take a 24-credit minor; study abroad or take a for-credit internship; and complete a research project.

“I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it — watching these students develop and do things they are really good at,” Selzer said. “That’s a pretty good gig.”

For Selzer, he’ll have financial support from the Paterno family’s endowed professorship, and he plans to take students in his rhetoric of civil rights course to important civil rights locations over the next spring break, such as Selma and Birmingham, Ala.

Wanner came to Penn State in 1996 and teaches undergraduate courses on the comparative history of communism, modern Eastern European history and religious studies. Her research interests include how the politics of religion shaped regional, national and civic allegiances in the former Soviet Union.

She said the Paterno Fellows program is a “terrific opportunity” for students in humanities and social sciences to enrich their academic career at Penn State.