Gift to enhance nursing program at Penn State Mont Alto

Nursing undergraduates will benefit from a bundle of new resources including high-tech equipment and travel stipends
Penn State Mont Alto nursing students

Penn State Mont Alto nursing students, pictured here in March, participate in training exercises using a state-of-the-art manikin acquired with support from longtime Penn State supporters Earl and Kay Harbaugh.

Credit: Penn State

MONT ALTO, Pa. — Responding to emerging needs at Penn State Mont Alto, longtime Penn State supporters Earl and Kay Harbaugh have come forward with a gift to enhance training and support for students in the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing.

With more than 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students on 13 campuses, the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing is one of the largest educators of pre-licensure students in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since its founding in 1964, the college has grown into a nationally recognized flagship program and now awards more than 500 bachelors’ degrees annually, as well as many other certificates and advanced degrees.

The Harbaughs’ gift was tailored in close consultation with faculty and executive leadership to address four key priorities affecting undergraduate nursing students, including:

  • acquiring the latest technology in heart defibrillators and monitors;
  • funding a Penn State Monto Alto Nursing Student Emergency Fund, which will assist undergraduates faced with sudden and life-altering emergencies;
  • creating a travel stipend, which will offset a portion of out-of-pocket transportation costs associated with required on-site clinical training; and
  • purchasing a state-of-the-art training manikin to aid in inclusive nursing training focused on care for children with Down Syndrome.

“We wanted to make an immediate, measurable impact on Penn State Mont Alto’s nursing students,” said Earl Harbaugh. “Kay and I always listen closely to the challenges facing students, and we believe that advancing this array of initiatives will deliver the resources and opportunities that are so vital for success. Our end goal is to help Penn State Mont Alto’s nursing program become even better than it already is.”

The heart defibrillator was delivered on campus in January and is already being used to train students in how to detect and stop arrhythmias by delivering electric shocks to restore normal aortic functioning.

“This unit will give our students firsthand experience with the same high-tech equipment currently being used on ambulances and in hospitals in our region,” said Carranda Barkdoll, who holds a doctor of nurse practice (DNP) degree, and is Mont Alto’s nursing program coordinator. “This upgrade makes a huge difference in our ability to train students so they can hit the ground running when they enter a healthcare setting.”

The Nursing Student Emergency Fund will direct resources on a case-by-case basis to students who, confronted with unforeseen obstacles, demonstrate the motivation and persistence to stay enrolled. The emergency fund will act as a short-term financial bridge to see students through difficult circumstances, such as the death of a parent, illness or other life-altering events, helping students to stay enrolled and on track to a successful career.

Another channel of resources opened up by the gift will benefit nursing students broadly. Each of Mont Alto’s 62 third- and fourth-year nursing undergraduates will receive a travel stipend for the 2023 spring semester, easing the financial pressure they experience in transportation costs as they attend required on-site clinical training.

Kay, a graduate of St. Luke’s School of Nursing and Case Western Reserve University, spent her career in the nursing field, and until her retirement taught obstetrics at St. Vincent School of Nursing. Following retirement, she served on the Delnor Community Hospital Board and in a variety of volunteer leadership positions.

Because of the depth of her experience, Kay knows firsthand the importance of financial assistance and clinical training for students.

“Nursing can be both physically and emotionally exhausting, particularly when you are learning so much in those early years,” Kay said. “The expenses of clinical training can make it even harder, so we knew this kind of assistance would really matter to nursing students.”

The Harbaughs’ support for students also extends to providing unprecedented training equipment. A simulator manikin, formed from a real-life 3D body scan of a seven-year-old girl with Down Syndrome, will be delivered in May. It will allow the program to deliver hyper-accurate training in how to treat patients with the genetic disorder.

“With the recent opening of our new, high-tech Allied Health Building, and as the first educational institution to purchase this cutting-edge technology, Penn State Mont Alto is a frontrunner in offering talented students the highest-quality nursing education that equips them to manage real-life situations in healthcare settings,” said Francis K. Achampong, chancellor of Penn State Mont Alto. “This meaningful gift from Earl and Kay provides a major step forward in delivering what students need to achieve excellence.”

A 1961 graduate of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Earl launched and managed three family-owned businesses before founding five Illinois-based companies, including Ditch Witch Midwest.

For their contributions as volunteers and leaders, the Harbaughs have received numerous honors. They were welcomed into the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Armsby Honor Society in 2003, and in 2012, the Penn State Board of Trustees recognized Earl with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the University's highest award for an individual. Four years later, the couple was honored as the 2016 Fundraising Volunteers of the Year, in recognition of their achievements in securing philanthropic funding for entrepreneurial education and scholarships.

The Harbaughs’ latest gift to Penn State Mont Alto builds on an already extensive philanthropic legacy, including support for the Harbaugh Entrepreneur and Innovation Faculty Scholar in the College of Agricultural Sciences; the Harbaugh Undergraduate Research Assistantship; multiple scholarship endowments; and the Harbaugh Faculty Scholars Program for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Though the Harbaughs have lent support to a wide range of Penn State initiatives, Penn State Mont Alto holds a special place in Earl’s memory because his father, the late Clarence Leroy Harbaugh, served as the campus maintenance supervisor from 1965 to 1982. A section of the campus arboretum is dedicated to Clarence’s memory. A small portion of the Harbaughs’ gift will also fund a new park bench, to be located in front of Conklin Hall in Harbaugh Maples of the World Grove, that will be dedicated to Kay’s parents.

With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy is helping to sustain the University’s tradition of education, research and service to communities across the commonwealth and around the globe. Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences allows our students and faculty to fulfill their vast potential for leadership, and gifts toward discovery and excellence help us to serve and impact the world we share. To learn more about the impact of giving and the continuing need for support, please visit