Student Profile: Nancy Konopka

A life in academics is a bit different than other callings.

Just ask Harrisburg University graduate student Nancy Konopka, whose husband is a Mount St. Mary’s University professor. “We live by semesters,” Nancy says matter of factly.

That makes sense on more than that one level. Because when she’s not attending classes at the university, Nancy is instructing biology students at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Or carrying out her full-time duties as a medical technologist at Hanover Hospital.

Or meeting her obligations as the laboratory education coordinator at the hospital.

It’s a bursting-at-the-seams “course load,” if you will, but Nancy has never resisted learning or teaching. This drive comes from her parents, whom Nancy thanks for instilling the feeling that she could do anything she wanted. “Anything” has revolved around science, including her current endeavor working toward her Master of Science degree in Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University.

“I love science,” Nancy says. “I love working with my hands. The field of medical laboratory science changes every year, and you have the opportunity to learn something new about medical discoveries.”

This passion manifested itself in an online blood-transfusion safety program that Nancy was asked to develop for the nursing staff at Hanover Hospital. The program met some important objectives for Nancy, both professionally and personally.

“The health care industry in the United States is highly regulated,” explains Nancy. “Safe blood transfusions are a big part of providing the safest and most-effective health care possible.

“It’s important for staff to be aware of potential issues and to periodically review the mechanisms and technology that have been developed to improve the transfusion process.”

The two-part eLearning course, featuring two instructional PowerPoint slide programs, satisfied transfusion safety accreditation standards of the Joint Commission and the College of American Pathologists. (The Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. Joint Commission accreditation and certification is recognized nationwide as a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to meeting certain performance standards.)

For her work, Nancy received the 2013 Theriot Award for Development of Significant Materials in Media & Equipment, presented by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, one of the premier professional organizations for laboratory medicine.

On a personal level, Nancy credits her courses at Harrisburg University for influencing how she designed the program. The result was the “first time I did instructional design for a department other than the lab,” says Nancy.

Although “the whole experience was very personally gratifying,” says Nancy, she takes special pride in the fact that patients are getting an overall better transfusion experience since the training program was implemented.

Providing this training is an extension of Nancy’s desire to nurture in students an understanding of basic biological principles and encourage a life-long interest in science.

“I feel that with this foundation, they’ll see the world from a fresh perspective and be able to approach new experiences with a critical eye and a sense of curiosity and wonder,” says Nancy.

This outlook served Nancy well when she was a student at Albright College in the late 1970s. “The professor in my speech class told me to keep speaking as an avocation,” recalls Nancy. “This has helped me throughout my career, and I’m very comfortable in front of crowds.”

It’s clear Nancy is in her comfort zone at Harrisburg University, as well, even though how she ended up here tested her experimental side.

“I was working in the Gettysburg area, doing research for an education convention and looking for an institution of higher education that might want to host a table at the convention,” says Nancy.

“I had never heard of Harrisburg University, and when I came across their Web site and saw that they offered a [Learning Technologies] program, I was intrigued. Up to that point, I was a self-taught educator. I had never used a computer, so I had to learn from scratch.”

And so ensued the next chapter of Nancy’s education. Having earned an M.S. in Medical Technology in 1987 from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Nancy entered Harrisburg University’s Learning Technologies Master of Science program, focused on honing her program-development skills.

One course that has been particularly helpful is Instructional Design and Development, which not only reinforced some tried-and-true methods but also shed light on the amount of behind-the-scenes planning required.

Another course, Media Selection Design and Production, taught Nancy to use multiple platforms for graphic design, a plus in her field.

The pluses for Nancy extend to the faculty at Harrisburg University, who “have been excellent at being able to present their knowledge, as experts in their respective fields,” she says.

Her instructional design professor, Albert Unrath, is “very good at getting to know each student’s level of expertise,” Nancy says. “He encourages every student to push their own envelope so everyone does their personal best.”

Andy Petroski, director of learning technologies, “takes an interest in every student’s personal goals,” says Nancy. “Students in the Learning Technologies program come from all different fields, and Andy wants to find out what their personal and career goals are.”

Nancy will be achieving one of her goals when she receives her second graduate degree later this year. She readily acknowledges these accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without her husband, who provides encouragement and has taken on “the bulk of household duties,” Nancy laughs.

While at Harrisburg University, Nancy has enjoyed watching the growth of the school and the evolution of its programs. “The university is well respected in the community. It had a unique beginning, and because it’s relatively new,” Nancy says, “there’s no mind-set of ‘We’ve always done it that way.’

“Harrisburg University is willing to try new and innovative approaches, and continues to re-evaluate goals for the student body and the community.

“It’s really helped my development.”