Graduate & Professional School Court

Savanah Jackson

Savanah Jackson is a 2nd  year graduate student at the School of International Affairs. She is studying race and development. Prior to Penn State Savanah Studied at Georgetown College in Kentucky and studied Political science and Philosophy. She is currently President of the Black Student Association at the school of International Affairs, Faculty Senator for the graduate school, and the Graduate Assistant of outreach and diversity at Career Service. Her hobbies include singing and dancing. She is committed to helping uplift the black community at Penn State and beyond!

Why do I love Penn State: I love Penn State because It has helped me grow into the person I want to become once I graduate. Penn State has provided me with professional and personal qualities that I will take out into the world to excel. I was able to find a community who cares about my welfare mentally and academically!

 Favorite Creamery Flavor: Grilled Stickies is the best!

Brandon McDonald

Brandon McDonald is originally from Saginaw, Michigan and completed his undergraduate degree at Central Michigan University. At Penn State, he is in his second-year of the Masters of Education in Higher Education Program. Currently at Penn State, he has, in his opinion, the best job, as he oversees the Campus Tour Program and get to directly supervise both the Lion Scouts and SMART tour organization and work closely with the Lion Ambassadors. Additionally, he spends time serving as the President of the Student Affairs Student Organization collaborating with other students in the higher education program, attending conferences, promoting each other’s work and events, and recruiting the next cohort of masters students. Brandon feels lucky to have the opportunity through Penn State to be heavily involved in national organizations that help him further his career and make meaningful connections including serving on multiple committees for CIVSA, ACPA, and NASPA.

Why do I love Penn State: He truly loves Penn State because of the people. When he meets and talks to prospective students, he always gets asked “Why Penn State” and his simple answer is “why not?”. There are not many places where he feels confident that the people are going to make the experience truly something special. The size of the school may often feel daunting for students thinking about attending Penn State, but Brandon thinks that the people here are what make this truly a community where anyone can thrive. It amazes him how every time he walks to class there’s at least one person who he has connected with at Penn State that has helped make his experience here a great one.

Favorite Creamery Flavor: It would have to be WPSU Coffee Break!

Alexander Vera

Alexander Vera is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Materials Science and Engineering department, out of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Before Penn State, Alex studied at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, where he received a B.S. in Applied Physics. His current research, funded by the Center for Nanoscale Science (MRSEC), is focused on the synthesis of air-stable, two-dimensional metals for quantum and optoelectronic applications.

At Penn State, Alex has served as Lab Safety Officer and coordinator for an annual Safety Olympics competition aimed at promoting laboratory safety culture at Penn State. He also is a student member of the EMS Diversity Council and EMS Mental Health Initiative, syncretic groups tasked with increasing graduate student well-being. Through this, he leads the EMS Wide Engagement Network/Mentorship Program with a goal to support the collegiate graduate student community in EMS. He has served as the treasurer for the Black Graduate Student Association and has had the opportunity to participate as student representative for the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs, where he has focused on increasing retention of underrepresented graduate students at PSU. He is a SLOAN scholar, and has been awarded the 2020 Departmental Safety Award, 2021 Stephanie Danette Preston Service Award, and 2022 Jay M. and Katherine Definis Award for Outstanding Student Leadership.

Why I love Penn State: Penn State is one of the largest yet most supportive communities I have known, and that support is both here at University Park and beyond. I’ve even met a Penn State alum hiking in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, of all places! This community has given me so many opportunities to meet amazing people, who have encouraged me to grow as a person. I am elated to call Penn State my home with so many others!

Favorite Creamery Flavor: Grilled Stickies

Anna Piotti

Anna Piotti is in their final year of a dual title PhD (German Linguistics and Language Science). Hailing originally from rural Maine, living and learning in State College seems like big-city life! Anna got a BA from Bowdoin College, heartily enjoying playing for and captaining the Women’s Rugy Team while there. After Bowdoin, Anna received two Fulbrights (one for Germany and one for Austria) and chose Salzburg, Austria because the English teacher position was at an agricultural high school. Their time in Salzburg reminded them of home and the farm of their childhood. Arriving at Penn State in 2018, Anna has taught (German and Psychology courses), researched (classroom-based studies concerning how language learning works), and designed curricula and professional development programming for their department (through an Anti-Racist/Social Justice Working Group) and for the Penn State community at large (through their work at the Schreyer Institute of Teaching Excellence). Anna’s passion is rooted in teaching & learning and DEI ( BAJ) and combines these interests every chance they get. For instance, for their dissertation, they designed and are facilitating a semester-long professional development program on social justice pedagogy for graduate instructors of German across the country. And this fall, Anna was a panel member of a roundtable focused on Trans*phobia in the classroom. As an out-trans instructor, Anna shared practical advice for Penn Staters interested in becoming more Trans*inclusive inside and outside their classrooms. If you pass Anna on campus, chat them up about long-distance running, vegetarian cooking, and bunny-ownership!

Who do you love Penn State: That’s easy—I met my soon-to-be husband, a Chemistry PhD student, on a hike in Rothrock. We had mutual friends, who invited us for a midday trek. Our group shared lovely picnic snacks, conversation, and adventure. Now over four years later, that memory is strongly connected to my identity as a Penn Stater because it demonstrates how amazing the Penn State community is. What do I love about Penn State? Everyone I meet, be they undergraduates or staff, full-fledged faculty or incoming graduate students, alums or administration, treats me and others with patience and respect. In this community, I have learned that you do not just ask who someone is or how they are doing, you listen to their answer as well. And that’s how I met my Alex. He asked and he listened. Favorite Creamery Flavor: I’ll order Monkey Business and think I’ve made that right decision. But then Alex will order Blueberry Cheesecake or Cinnamon Carmel Apple and I’ll take a lick and think: Oh wow. That’s really good.

For more information check out the Graduate & Professional School Court handbook.

Grad & Professional Court Handbook

Spring Nominations


Spring Nominations will open 8 a.m. All Nominations will need to be submitted online. Only one nomination is needed to receive an application. Nomination tables will be set up in the HUB on April 27th (Legacy Celebration). Nominations will close on August 31st at 5:00 pm, and no late submissions will be accepted.



Court applications will go out to all those nominated via email. Applications will be due electronically on September 5th at 11:59pm. No late applications will be accepted.

Faculty and Staff Panel Interviews

September 19, 2022

The selected 10 Court candidate’s will be interviewed by the Faculty panel.

Court Workshop

October 3rd, 6-8:30PM

Location will be in HUB 134. All Homecoming Courts (Grad, University and Student) will receive their schedule of events and important information for Homecoming Week.

Court Service Event

Date TBD

All Graduate and Professional School Court members will plan and implement a Campus-wide community service event.

Homecoming Week

October 16th – 22nd

All members of the Graduate and Professional Court are required to be present and active at all Homecoming Week Events.

Homecoming Football Game

October 22nd

Members of the Graduate and Professional Court will be recognized at the Homecoming Football Game.