Kaylin Burkey earns her degree at PennWest California on May 6.

“It was too much at times,” chemistry major and Vulcans volleyball standout Kaylin Burkey was saying as she reflected on four years ofdemands required to be a successful student-athlete at Pennsylvania Western University’s California campus.

“Between labs and practice, sprinting to class every Tuesday and Thursday, 6-7 hours of homework, 6 a.m. lifts. Sometimes, that 3 p.m.practice? I just didn’t want to.”

But like a dig and spike on the same play, she did it all, and on May 6, Burkey, of Youngstown, Pa., joined about 1,000 of her fellow studentsat PennWest California for commencement ceremonies in the Convocation Center.

“It was a challenge, but at the end of a busy day, I was able to say, ‘Hey, I did that!’”

Burkey will enroll at Indiana University Bloomington, in the fall for a dual master’s in chemistry and environmental sciences.

Across PennWest’s campuses at California, Clarion and Edinboro on Saturday, nearly 2,600 students earned their associate, bachelor’s master’s and doctoral degrees from the colleges of Arts & Humanities; Business, Communication & Information Science; Education; Health Sciences; Natural Science & Engineering Technology; and Social Science and Human Services.

Dr. Brenda Fredette, interim provost and vice president of AcademicAffairs, conferred the degrees at California. Dr. Donna Wilson, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and chief academic officer for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, spoke on behalf of the Chancellor’s Office.

PennWest students Alyssa Lambert-Alonso, who graduated with dual degrees in criminal justice and psychology, and Kristen Hartz, who graduated with a degree in mathematics with a statistics concentration and minors in computer science and finance, addressed their fellow graduates.

“Through my time at this university, I have made life-long connections with students and even faculty,” said Lambert-Alonso, who served as a Student Government Senator, president of the Criminal Justice Club and Honor Society, and membership vice president of Gamma Sigma Sigma.

“Everyone here today should be nothing but proud of the person they have become during their time at PennWest California,” said Hartz, who served as a tutor, volunteer peer mentor, and member of the Pi Mu Epsilon Mathematics Honor Society and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society. She also served as president of PennWest’s Math Club. “We faced tremendous change, adapted and even thrived. And all of us here ultimately achieved our goal of graduating.”

Wade Wolfgang, of York, Pa., was a chemistry classmate of Burkey’s. He’ll apply his degree and environmental studies minor at his job with Eurofins Scientific, which provides food, environmental, pharmaceutical and cosmetic product testing.

“Everyone in the chem program was so welcoming,” said Wolfgang, who was 2022 PennWest Cal Homecoming King and president of the Acacia fraternity. “It was a very personal connection between faculty and my peers.”

For Madison Murphy, most recently of Knoxville, Tennessee, who graduated with a degree in anthropology and a concentration in archaeology and forensic science and minor in history, it’s off to the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, for her master’s degree in osteoarchaeology.

“I’ve been really lucky in that the plan I had for myself is working out,” she said. “Dr. (Cassandra) Kuba was great; I loved every single anthropology class. She’s great at connecting with students.”

Fisheries and wildlife biology major Kerry Katz, of Pittsburgh, appreciated the student-faculty collaborations.

“I really like the access that PennWest students have with faculty. The most valuable thing I gained was the opportunity to do undergraduate research. I like the emphasis that PennWest places on that. Faculty are super-supportive, and there are a lot of opportunities.”

Also Saturday, a posthumous honorary Doctor of Humane Letters will be awarded to the late Gail Artyth George Lese for her legacy of service to PennWest California. She was a member of the Cal U Alumni Association board of directors and served on the Council of Trustees for more than 14 years. Her husband, Dr. Alexander Lese, will accept on her behalf.