MONACA, Pa. (AP) – A zombie apocalypse descended on Penn State-Beaver’s student union Friday, challenging students to evade the onslaught as they bargained and problem-solved their way through a series of four escape rooms.
Teams faced a new puzzle in each room, working against the clock as they dodged groaning, gore-caked zombies. Each success brought them closer to weathering the disaster as they wired a circuit to light a rescue torch, restored a computer server, decontaminated drinking water or negotiated a hostage situation.
By the time a team broke free of its last escape room, they could breathe easy, knowing they’d outwitted the undead — and learned a little bit about themselves in the process.
The zombie apocalypse challenge was part of professor Juliette Storr’s senior public relations class’s Major Opportunity event, a multiday experience created to help undecided students choose a major.
Each room’s activities corresponded to the abilities or skill sets needed to succeed in a specific major Penn State-Beaver offers. Psychology, engineering, information sciences and technology, administration of justice, communications, business and biology were all represented.
Storr tasks her capstone class with a two-semester project every year, pairing the class with a local client and challenging them to work with that client to plan an event that will enhance students’ educational outcomes.
This year, the class worked with the Division of Undergraduate Studies coordinator Gretchen Samchuck and Director of Enrollment Dan Pinchot, designing and organizing an event to address students’ indecision about their fields of study in a creative way.
According to information from the Penn State Division of Undergraduate Studies, between 20 and 50 percent of students enroll in college with an “undecided” major each year and 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation.
“It is a huge problem across the nation,” Storr said.
Major Opportunity began with a two-tiered scavenger hunt April 4 and 6, which gave students the chance to explore campus resources and learn about themselves.
The first day, participants received a list of clues leading them to campus resources, like academic advisers’ offices and program bulletin boards. Wednesday’s activity gave them an opportunity for self-reflection and testing their knowledge of the school’s programs against their assessment of their own skills and abilities.
Friday’s escape rooms gave students a chance to compare their natural abilities and interests to the skill sets required to succeed in each major, said Brianna D’Itri, senior corporate communications major.
“If they’re excited by the idea of restoring a server, IST might be a good major,” said D’Itri, who served as the class’s media relations director.
Storr, whose class has been working on two-semester capstone projects for about 10 years, said she challenges her students to keep their events innovative, creative and interactive.
For Storr’s students, the event planning process serves as a trial run for the communications industry. This year, her seniors were able to solidify their own career interests as they helped younger students find the right fit, Storr said.
Class project managers Marlee Bandish and Rob Trhlin, both senior corporate communication majors, split the duties involved with overseeing the project.
Bandish’s duties encompassed managing class portfolios, overseeing the event’s preparations, including designing the fliers, pamphlets and spooky decor, and she said the hands-on experience was instrumental in helping her get a summer internship at a public relations firm in London.
Trhlin worked to secure the event space, met with the class’s clients and coordinated with campus faculty and the business office. Trhlin, who graduates in May, said working on a long-term project has given him an edge when it comes to applying for jobs.
“Talking to people, they know you can handle a good work load,” he said.
For participants, like undecided sophomore Michael Bega, a choice of major clicked after three days of activities.
Bega, who attended Friday’s event with friends, said the interactive biology activity helped steer him toward a field he was already leaning toward: kinesiology.
“It’s a lot of hands-on stuff,” Bega said. “It makes you think.”
For Storr’s class, hearing participants’ feedback was rewarding, and students such as D’Itri said they see the project serving a greater good. Nudging undecided students in the right direction gives them a confidence boost, but it also helps the region’s economic future, D’Itri said.
“A lot of people stay in the area after they graduate,” she said. “This event will be pivotal for a lot of young professionals. . These three days will eventually impact Beaver County’s economic future.”