Each year, Penn State Schuylkill recognizes a select group of alumni, and sometimes friends, for their contributions to the campus, professional achievements, and impact on the greater Penn State community and society at large. This year, Penn State Schuylkill has named four honorees in categories of Outstanding Alumni, Outstanding Young Alumni, and the Pride and Spirit Award.
Nominations for next year's Alumni Awards will begin on June 1, 2023. If you know a Penn Stater or friend of the campus whose commitment to the University and/or community deserves recognition, please consider filling out a submission form.
The Outstanding Alumni Award acknowledges the achievements of Penn State Schuylkill alumni for their continued contributions to Penn State as well as their impact within their communities. This year, two nominees received the Outstanding Alumni Award: Joseph S. Gera, ’81 and '83, and John J. Mika, ’85.
Outstanding alumnus and philanthropist with impactful engineering career and Penn State pride: Joseph S. Gera
Joseph S. Gera is a Schuylkill County native who started his college career at Penn State Schuylkill, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at University Park in 1981 and his master's in electrical engineering with a specialization in advanced semiconductor device physics, processing and materials characterization from Penn State in 1983.
After a distinguished 33-year career at IBM, Gera retired in 2015 as program director of marketing planning and strategy for the company's high-end mainframe server brand. His enthusiasm for the University is evident throughout his involvement in numerous Penn State affiliations and activities.
For 28 years, Gera has been highly involved as a Penn State Recruitment Volunteer and Coordinator for high schools in several counties of New York. He's also a lifetime member of the Penn State Alumni Association, and co-founded the Mid-Hudson Valley Penn State Chapter in 1999. In 2019, Joe and his wife, Cheryl, established the Joseph S. Gera Engineering Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a high-achieving Penn State Schuylkill second-year student studying engineering. Students also must be Schuylkill County residents with an unmet financial need.
An impactful career in teaching earns Outstanding Alumni nod: John J. Mika
John J. Mika is a lifelong resident of Schuylkill County who pursued an academic career in secondary education and social studies at Penn State Schuylkill and University Park. Throughout his teaching career, he taught at several schools, including Wyalusing, Tunkhannock, Elk Lake and Lackawanna Trail school districts, and eventually pivoted to a teaching career within the U.S. Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Mika, who began his time in the Department of Justice as a correctional officer, worked his way into a teaching role where he instructed general education development courses and English as a Second Language courses to the incarcerated population for 22 years.
Most recently, he was employed by the Schuylkill County Coroner’s Office as a deputy coroner. Currently, Mika coaches basketball at the Williams Valley School District. He is also president of the Williams Valley school board and vice president of the Schuylkill County Vo-Tech and IU29 school boards. He is a member of the Jerry Wolman, Northern Anthracite Chapter, Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and the Shenandoah Valley School District Sports Hall of Fame. He resides in Porter Township, Pennsylvania, with his wife of 32 years, Elaine, who is also a Penn State grad (’86 Nursing).
Outstanding Young Alumni
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award acknowledges the achievements of Penn State Schuylkill alumni, under the age of 35, for their contributions to Penn State as well as their impact within their communities. This year, Nicholas W. Shugars, '15, earned the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
Outstanding Young Alumnus displays Penn State pride: Nicholas W. Shugars
Nicholas W. Shugars started his academic career at Penn State Schuylkill, and participated in the 2+2 program, eventually earning his degree in communications at University Park. Shugars was very involved on campus as part of the Nittany Players theater group, THON, Lion Ambassadors, and as a peer tutor and a Penn State Kids Camp instructor. Upon his graduation, he began his communications career in Hollywood, and most recently served as a publicist at Warner Bros. Pictures in Burbank, California.
Shugars is a proud Penn Stater. He has been an alumni association member in the Los Angeles Chapter, and speaks one-on-one with students who participate in the Penn State Hollywood Spring Program. He also offers one-on-one chats with current College of Communications students. He plans to continue his connections with Penn State by connecting with local Penn Staters and across the globe.
Pride and Spirit Award
The Pride and Spirit Award is earned by a person whose contribution to the success of Penn State Schuylkill campus is significant and meaningful. This year, Katharina Stuerzl, earned the Pride and Spirit Award.
Katharina Stuerzl is a former human resources and business development professional with one of our local manufacturing companies and Consortium of Co-Op Employers partner, MAE-Eitel. She earned her master of arts in North American Studies from the University of Cologne in Germany, where she is originally from. Leaning into her passion for growth, she earned her Certified Professional designation from the Society of Human Resources (SHRM-CP).
In 2022, she became a published author, writing "Step Into Your Brave" amongst peers. In the same year, she began to share her learnings as an enthusiastic speaker at Women in Leadership events. As a certified Alignment and Leadership Coach, Stuerzl's true passion is to empower individuals to align what they do with who they are, and what they value most.
Stuerzl happily joined Penn State Schuylkill as an instructor in business, and recently transitioned to coordinator of career services as part of the Career Development Center, to help coach our students full-time.