It’s 1987, and a young sophomore poses in front of the Brodhead Cultural Center for the cover of a new admissions recruitment brochure. She appears unsure about who she is and what she wants to do, but ready to embark on her future. She is the personification of an ’80s coed — short, permed hair, big earrings and a chunky bracelet, wearing red knit pants and a bright blue sweatshirt.
Fast forward to New Student Day 2012, 25 years later, and that same woman is now the embodiment of Penn State, wearing khaki capris embroidered with the Penn State logo, a white Penn State golf shirt, and Penn State dangle earrings.
Only now she is a woman sure of herself and her job. She’s hustling between rooms, handling problems and getting nervous students excited as they prepare to start classes at Penn State Beaver.
The woman is 44-year-old Amy (Blinn) Gartley ’90 Com, associate director of student affairs, and she’s no less a Penn Stater now than she was as a student back in 1987.
Gartley’s position encompasses residence life, student activities, career and personal counseling, health services, and athletics.
“In student affairs, you have to wear many hats,” said Jill Bender, staff assistant for the Offices of Student Affairs and Residence Life.
Of the many hats Gartley wears, her favorite is working directly with students. Though her other job and home responsibilities cut into that, face time with students still brings great rewards.
Recently at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game, she saw a young woman whom she recognized as a Beaver student from the early ’90s. Gartley remembered the former student’s struggle with an eating disorder and recalled connecting her with a counseling center.
“She looked wonderful,” Gartley said. “It was awesome to see 20 years later that she had overcome that bump in the road and made it through.”
But it was when Gartley recalled the night a few years ago when she presented an award to a student that her true compassion really shone through. Tears began to pool in her eyes, and she found it difficult to speak as she related the moment.
Being careful not to mention specifics, she described the student’s bad home life and how much she had to overcome. “I knew what appeared to be very normal, behind the curtain for her it wasn’t normal at all,” Gartley said. “She persevered through all this family stuff. I’m not sure anybody had heartstrings tugged harder than me, knowing what I did,” she added.
“Amy genuinely cares about the students that she serves and the people she works with,” said Dr. Christopher Rizzo, director of student affairs.
Gartley has been a presence on the Beaver campus for more than 20 years. She attended Beaver and Penn State Behrend in the late ’80s before graduating from Penn State Harrisburg in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
After her graduation in May, Gartley felt she was being drawn to higher education and started exploring how she could become involved with student activities.
She contacted Dr. Robert DeWitt ’76 Lib, ’77 MEd, Beaver’s former director of student affairs, whom she knew from her job as a resident assistant (RA), and found out about an open position in residence life at Beaver.
Having been an RA at the three campuses she attended, Gartley had the necessary experience. But she never thought that being an RA would set her on a career path she didn't even know existed.
Three months after graduating from Penn State, she was hired for the residence life position at Beaver. However, she was told that if she wanted to continue to move ahead in higher education, she would need to obtain an advanced degree. At DeWitt's urging, she earned a master’s degree in counseling services from Slippery Rock University.
“He had an impact on me as a student and continued to have an impact as a professional,” Gartley said. “He set the bar high. He was always about developing me more and telling me I needed experience in this area or that.”
Soon after getting her master’s degree, a student activities job opened at Beaver. Gartley moved into it and maintained the position until she became associate director of student affairs in 1996.
She admits that at first she wasn't sure about her new job because it encompassed student conduct, a position she likened to being the principal. “I’m the fun person,” Gartley said. “I was afraid it would change who I was.”
After much reflection, she decided that student conduct didn’t need to be viewed that way and she could do it differently. She wanted to be seen as “someone who would be fair and equitable in the system and still want to be strong about what the policy is, but approachable at the same time.”
Rizzo said, “In this job, you run into students in crisis or having a conduct issue, and Amy has a really strong ability to make meaning out of those situations and apply that to life lessons or to help them to get the help they may need.”Jeremy Lindner ’00 Bus, director of housing and food services. “She can tell students the message they don’t want to hear in a caring manner so they can accept it.”
Gartley has the same caring manner with her students’ parents, Bender said. “I’ve had parents screaming at me in the office or over the phone, but I pass that on to Amy, and they always leave her office happy,” she said. “They may not have gotten the end result they wanted, but they’re happy with the process that she gave them.”
Lindner, for one, is happy that Gartley has a relationship with the parents. He met Gartley in the fall of 1996 when he was a student at Beaver. His mother met her then, too.
Gartley made herself so accessible that, even though Lindner lived at home, when he was so busy he wouldn’t see his mom for days, she called Gartley to check and make sure he was doing OK.
In 2004 when the job of director of housing and food services opened up at Penn State Greater Allegheny, Gartley thought of Lindner. This time it was Gartley who picked up the phone and called Lindner's mom to tell her about the open position.
Lindner is grateful for that phone call. “Only special people make those phone calls,” he said.
“She remembers people,” Bender said. “She might not always get it right, but she knows who you are.” Bender is grateful for that; otherwise she may not be Gartley’s assistant today. As a student in 1998, Bender worked in student activities for Gartley. Almost 10 years later she happened to run into her in the mall. Gartley remembered Bender and the work she had done and told her she was looking for an assistant. Bender applied, got the job, and has worked at Beaver since then.
Gartley had good training for the hard work and multitasking expected in her position. She put herself through college by working long hours at a convenience store and helping out on her family’s small farm with barn chores, cutting acres of grass and weeding the garden.
Gartley credits the lack of financial means with creating her strong work ethic. “My parents said, ‘If you want something, then you need to figure out a game plan to get it.’ ”
So in junior high, when Gartley’s parents wouldn’t pay for the contact lenses she wanted, she decided to raise the $300 herself and got a paper route. “Out in the country, you do it on foot. So even though I only had 30 papers, I covered about two miles,” she said.
With money also going out for other expenses, like shoes and clothes, it took Gartley three years to get her contacts, but she did it.
That work ethic shines through today. “If Amy says it’s going to be done, she gets it done. You can rely on her,” Rizzo said.
Hard work is not the only family tradition for Gartley; Penn State is, too. Like many Penn State alumni, Gartley was brought up frequently hearing about the University, just not through the usual rah-rah way that most people associate with Penn State families. “We heard more about Penn State through the cooperative extension than through football.”
The family tradition of Penn State began with her father, an agriculture teacher and farmer who attended Penn State University Park. When her older sister decided to go away to college but didn't want to go too far from their Lawrence County home, she chose Beaver campus. Her brother, only 15 months older, soon followed.
When it came time for Gartley to choose, she briefly considered Grove City College but soon realized they didn't have enough majors to choose from. So she opted to continue in her siblings’ footsteps and chose Beaver campus, as did her youngest brother.
Gartley's husband, Bill, attended Beaver in the late ’80s before leaving for another college on a baseball scholarship, but the two didn't really know each other well.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Gartley became reacquainted with Bill. After noticing that she was always on campus, one of her adult students suggested she join a gym off campus. It was there that Gartley ran into Bill and recognized him as a former Beaver student. They reconnected, dated and were married in 1995. They have three children, Jake, 10; Grace, 9; and Faith, 6.
Soon after having children, Gartley realized she would have to choose sometimes between her campus kids and her own kids. She said at first it was difficult because she was used to being on campus all the time. It helped when Bill chose to be a stay-at-home dad while obtaining his master’s degree in business administration from Robert Morris University. Now he works part-time in the evenings at FedEx Express and homeschools the children.
“It might not be great for him, but it works for the family,” she said. With her husband’s help, Gartley found she had time for all the kids in her life. “It just has to be more planned and less spontaneous” when it involves her students.
With all of Gartley’s responsibilities, it’s not surprising that she doesn’t have much spare time. She admits she’s a very energetic person and never sits still. She relaxes by working out in the mornings. She doesn’t watch movies or TV, or even have cable, but she does like to listen to the radio and read. She prefers newspapers and John Grisham novels, but is quick to clarify that her fondness for Grisham novels “is not because I wanted to be a lawyer. It’s because he writes in nice short chapters that can be easily picked up and set down.”
If not a lawyer, then what did she want to be growing up? Looking back, Gartley said she’s not really sure she ever wanted to “be” anything and now she’s unsure whether she would like to be anything other than what she is. She likes the flexibility of her job. “I don’t think I could be in just residence life or just student conduct,” Gartley said. “I don’t know that I’m willing to give up the variety.”
Gartley’s dedication to her job was evident in April when she received the Penn State Beaver Advisory Board Staff Excellence Award. The award is given as a result of nominations submitted by students, faculty and staff.
One nominator wrote, “She has become a foundation of support on campus able to bring people together to achieve mutual goals. As a primary campus leader supporting and working with students, staff, faculty, parents, and families, she understands the critical role Student Affairs plays in supporting and constructing a safe and vibrant campus community.”
Gartley said she was stunned to receive the award. “I was truly honored and didn’t expect it. For more than 20 years, I’ve been motivated by our students through residence life and student leadership experiences,” she said. “I like to learn what’s unique about each student, and I really enjoy helping them assess what they’re doing now to see how it can benefit them in the future.”
Stories inside the 2013 edition of the Nittany News
- Alumni Information
- Penn State Beaver Alumni Society
- Beaver Valley Area Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association