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Diverse fields of study that share one
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October 2015

Hayley Ahlefeld knows the big impact her work can have on little hearts.

Ahlefeld, a senior in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), volunteers her time in the summers assisting preschool age children with developmental disabilities through the Chester County Intermediate Unit Downingtown, Pennsylvania. She has also assisted in providing activities, and implemented strategies to reduce stressors related to a hospital stay, to hospitalized children at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The Downingtown native says her major and professors have played a significant role in helping pinpoint her field of interest and getting out into the field to pursue it.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) studying a wide-array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Ahlefeld, who found a home in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

Ahlefeld, who is minoring in psychology, always knew she wanted to work with children and families.

“Upon entering Penn State, I was guided in the direction of HDFS,” she said.

Through her coursework, it became clear to Ahlefeld which fields she was interested in, specifically a hospital setting working with children.



As an instructional assistant at the Chester County Intermediate Unit for the past two years, Ahlefeld assisted 3 to 5-year-old children with developmental disabilities; supervised play activities, snack time, and toilet training; implemented behavioral techniques as directed by the classroom teacher; and facilitated the social emotional and self-care needs of students.

She also worked as a preschool special education volunteer at the Chester County Intermediate Unit during the summer of 2012. There, she observed classroom-based and therapy settings in preschool special education classrooms, and collaborated with classroom staff in various learning activities.

Through these volunteer experiences, Ahlefeld said she learned how important it is for patients to have support and consistency, and something to look forward to.

“Knowing they have someone there to play with can make their hospital stay easier,” she said.

While it is hard for Ahlefeld to be around sick children, including those with terminal illnesses, focusing on the positives has helped guide her, she said.

“I focus on the kids, not their illnesses,” she said. “I make sure they have a good day that day.”

Ahlefeld is currently working as an undergraduate research assistant for Jennie Noll, professor of Human Development and Family Studies and director of the Network on Child Protection and Wellbeing. Ahlefeld has been assisting with the Techno Teens study, where she observes the online activity of at-risk adolescent girls and codes online social media activity.

Noll, along with Ahlefeld’s other professors, provide her with a wealth of opportunities and resources, she said.

“All of my professors express the importance of getting out into the field through research and volunteering,” Ahlefeld said. “They all stress the importance of getting out into the world.”

After graduation, Ahlefeld plans to attend graduate school, and eventually pursue a career working with children and families in a clinical setting.

In addition to HDFS, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management.