Penn State Athletes share how their SIA and athletic careers are mutually beneficial

Annjulie Vester and Ben Kline
Annjulie Vester and Ben Kline Credit: Mary Szmolko

Six Penn State athletes attend the School of International Affairs. Each athlete faces the challenge of balancing rigorous graduate studies with their rigorous training and athletic schedules. Because of that, each brings their own talents, goals, and life experiences to SIA. Here, three of them share how SIA has helped them in the athletic arena, and how athletics has helped them with their academics at SIA.

Matt Brown – Penn State Wrestler

Brown, the 2015 CoSIDA Men's At-Large Academic All-American of the Year, knew he wanted to study international affairs. After spending two years in Angola and Mozambique, he wanted to study other cultures and how different countries develop, operate, and interact.

He came to Penn State as a student athlete, and discovered he could enter the Integrated Graduate-Undergraduate Program to blend his interest in international affairs, and the ability to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in International Affairs.

“My studies and my desire to learn about global cultures gave me an outlet and a different focus outside of wrestling,” said the NCAA 2015 wrestling champion. “while athletics gave me discipline and the ability to push myself in my academics.”

Brown, who hopes for a career as an intelligence analyst, explains while the SIA curriculum is challenging and SIA professors held him to the same high expectations as other students, he took advantage of the accessibility of the SIA faculty. With a nine to one faculty student ratio, faculty members are able to form close relationships with students.

“I’m really grateful for my chance to study here,” said Brown, who will receive the 2016 NCAA Today's Top 10 Award. “The professors here opened my eyes to think about issues on a larger level and in a strategic sense. They gave me the tools to succeed in my future career.”

Ben Kline – Penn State Football Player

Like Brown, Kline chose SIA because it was the one program on campus that aligned with his interests. He wanted a future in international affairs and met professors Scot Gartner and Johannes Fedderke while working at the Red Cell Analytics Lab, the Penn State club for students interested in a career in analytics. After speaking with them, and other SIA student athletes, Kline knew he wanted to pursue an M.I.A. degree.

“It’s hard to find this type of program with this type of reputation and academic caliber as SIA,” said Kline, a nominee for an American Rhodes Scholarship, and a semifinalist for the 2015 Campbell Trophy, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation. “After researching the program and speaking with professors and students, I knew this was the program for me.”

Kline said SIA classes have broadened his academics by analyzing specific global issues and showing him how to strategize solutions for different circumstances. While uncertain of his future career, Kline has narrowed it down to the fields of economic policy, or distributive justice and mediation. His time at SIA, and as an athlete have been mutually beneficial.

“As a college athlete, I learned to associate with people of all different backgrounds, from all different states and socioeconomic statuses,” he said. “This has helped me in SIA, where it’s a completely different type of diversity.”

Annjulie Vester – Penn State Track and Field Hammer Throw

Vester, who came to study in the U.S. from Germany, was serious about track and field, serious about academics and serious about international affairs. She found all three blended with getting an M.I.A. degree from Penn State SIA, and was impressed with the SIA faculty.

“There are two retired U.S. ambassadors teaching here and also Dr. Tiyanjana Maluwa who was a senior official for the United Nations and for the African Union,” she said. “The faculty here is incredibly accomplished.”

SIA’s biggest draw for Vester was that she could choose graduate level electives from any of the departments and schools at Penn State. With this option, she can tailor her degree with a choice of specializations. Upon graduation, she hopes to first intern with the German Department or Interpol before applying to the German Foreign Service. She credits SIA with teaching her how to think and analyze from different perspectives.

“I’ve been able to learn how states work together on a law enforcement level,” she said. “I also now see different countries and how they don’t meet the stereotypes.”

Cody Amengual, Matthew Bersano, and Connor Curry round out the other SIA student athletes.