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    Alumni Profiles

    Program Alumni

    Current students: Please contact us!

    We would love to talk with you.

    The below graduates of Penn State's Higher Education Program welcome contact from current Higher Education students and fellow alumni. They are willing to serve as resources for career planning / pathing and discussion of research interests.

    Betty Harper, Ph.D. '08 is a Senior Planning and Research Associate at Penn State. She is responsible for providing analytical support, and conducting institutional research using both quantitative and qualitative information relevant to strategic planning, institutional assessment, and improvement. Prior to assuming this role, Betty served as the director of Penn State’s Student Affairs Research and Assessment (2009-2011), senior project associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education (2008-2009); graduate research assistant on several national studies of engineering education (2005-2008); and as a project associate for Rankin and Associates Consulting (2004-2008). Prior to working in assessment, Betty served as the Undergraduate Program Coordinator in Penn State's School of Forest Resources, where she coordinated advising for undergraduate students in three majors (1999-2004). Betty holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education at Penn State with a minor in Educational Psychology and graduate certificate in Institutional Research. She also has an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology and B.S. in Natural Resources Conservation from the University of Florida. She may be contacted at or (814) 863-8721.

    Dr. Lawrence A. Nespoli, D.Ed. '80 is President of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, the statewide coordinating and advocacy organization for New Jersey’s community colleges. He also teaches in Rowan University’s Doctorate Program in Community College Leadership. Nespoli previously served in a number of campus and state-level positions in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He has published extensively in the area of college finance and legislative trends and serves on the editorial board of the Community College Journal of Research and Practice. He also serves as a board member for several national community college organizations including the American Association of Community College’s Workforce Development Council and the College Board’s Community College Advisory Panel, and is a frequent presenter at national, regional, and state conferences. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University, a master’s degree from Catholic University, and a doctorate in Higher Education from Penn State. He may be reached at or

    Kristine K. Otto, Ph.D. '01 is associate director of gift planning at Bentley University, Waltham, MA. Prior to holding her current position, she was a leadership giving officer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, MA. Her experience in the field of higher education began at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where she held the positions of lawyering process coordinator, admissions counselor, and assistant to the dean (for development). After earning the Ph.D., Kris served as assistant director of development in the Penn State's College of Education, then as gift planning officer in Penn State's Office of Gift Planning, before moving to Massachusetts.  Kris holds a B.A. in advertising from Penn State, and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law.  She may be contacted at

    Heather Ricker-Gilbert, D.Ed. '91 is the former Assistant Director of the Penn State Alumni Association and Director of Special Events for the Office of the President at Penn State. She also worked as Director of Community and Campus Relations at the University of Connecticut. She has taught at Penn State and held full-time faculty appointments in communication at the Hartford Campus of the University of Connecticut and at Eastern Connecticut State University. Heather is professor emerita of communication at Manchester Community College (CT) where she was the Coordinator of the Liberal Arts and General Studies Programs. Dr. Ricker-Gilbert has been a frequent presenter on the topic of community colleges at the New England Association of College Admissions Counselors (NEACAC) conferences, and in 2008 she was a presenter at the Penn State Higher Education Alumni Symposium. In April, 2000, Heather was the commencement speaker at the University of Sydney, in Australia. She was a faculty speaker at the May, 2009 inauguration of Gina Glickman, the new president of Manchester Community College and critiqued President Obama’s Inaugural Address for Faculty Professional Days in January, 2009. Heather Ricker-Gilbert received her B.A. and M.A. degrees in speech communication and, in 1991, received a D.Ed. in higher education from Penn State University. Her master’s thesis was entitled “Similarities and Differences in Selected Speeches by Charles De Gaulle” and her doctoral dissertation, directed by William Tierney, was entitled “Restructuring A College: Communication of Change in a Major University.” Heather was a twelve-year member of the Tolland Board of Education (CT) and a past member of the Tolland Library Foundation Board and the Tolland Educational Foundation. Currently, she is a member of Schlow Library Board of Directors and of the Higher Education Program Alumni Council Board of Directors. Heather, who lives in State College, is an independent educational consultant specializing in college selection and admissions. She is a member of the IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association and of PACAC, the Pennsylvania Association of College Admissions Counselors. Her website is

    Jim Trainer, Ph.D. '93 works at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia where he serves as an Associate Vice President in Academic Affairs and Executive Director of the Office of Planning and Institutional Research (hopefully, soon to be the Office of Institutional Effectiveness). In his latter role, he reports directly to Villanova’s President. Prior to his current position, Jim directed planning and assessment efforts at Villanova and served as a Special Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs. Jim teaches one course a semester in Villanova’s Masters in Public Administration program (MPA). He earned his PhD in Higher Education from Penn State in 1993 with a concentration in Educational Psychology and an emphasis on evaluation, research design, and measurement. For eight years, he directed the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS). He is a Past President of both the North East Association for Institutional Research (NEAIR) and the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). Jim frequently serves as a visiting evaluation team member for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and is presently serving on an MSCHE task force reviewing current accreditation standards. A published author, regular presenter and consultant, Jim often collaborates with PSU's office of planning and institutional assessment. Jim is a faculty member/facilitator for the Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education (IACHE) and was a founding member and past and present board member for the Catholic Higher Education Research Cooperative (CHERC).  He chairs the Board of Trustees at Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture (DVC), his undergraduate Alma Mater. Jim resides in Havertown, Pennsylvania with Mary Ellen and their two children – Thomas and Therese. He appreciates both the depth of the education he received in higher education at PSU and the overall breadth of his PSU educational experience. He believes that the combination of these two have allowed him to adapt to and succeed in many different situations over the years. Jim is a HEPAC Board member, presently serving as Secretary and an Executive Committee member. Jim taps into his Penn State higher education network on a regular basis. Grateful for the support he received in completing his degree at Penn State, Jim welcomes the opportunity to give back in any way that he can. He can be reached at


    For additions / edits to this page, please contact Kate Emmick.