The graduates

MCALISTERVILLE – Four years ago a missions trip for a father and daughter influenced their futures.

Today, Stason Sellers and daughter Tia Sellers are graduates. Stason graduated from Penn State University May 9 with a degree in civil engineering. Tia graduated June 4 from East Juniata High School and is planning to attend Penn State in the fall.

In 2010 Stason faced a layoff from his job. In the meantime, he and Tia were scheduled to embark on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic with The River Church.

“Seeing the conditions in the Dominican and seeing how they lived with such dirty water – really changed my views on life,” he said.

The water system was a poor one in the country and Stason said he decided then and there he could make a difference. He was going back to school to be an engineer.

A 1992 graduate of East Juniata High School, Stason, who is 39, said he wasn’t a good student in high school. Shortly after graduating, he became a father to a son. He said he went right to work and didn’t give college a thought.

He pressed on four years to finish his degree as a full time student, taking courses at both main campus in State College and at the Capital Campus in Middletown.

Throughout the entire process, his children, Cody, Tia and Keely were his inspiration.

A memory that burns in Stason’s mind was when he first took the kids with him to purchase his books for the first semester. He said he felt his kids didn’t really suspect their Dad was serious. Then they approached the counter and the cashier told him it was going to be roughly $600.

“I remember Tia’s head snapping around and she said, ‘Wait – Dad, are you serious?'”

Stason was very serious.

He said his goal was to show his children how important an education would be for them – without “preaching to them.”

Son Cody joined the Air Force after high school. Tia, the second oldest, said she would never attend college because it was a waste of time and money.

Stason took the time to allow Tia to attend some of his classes with him on campus to see first-hand what it meant to be a college student.

Tia said she soon realized the significance the experience had on her father’s life as he took in 18 to 22 credits a semester.

She is now going into Penn State with an undeclared major but is leaning toward engineering.

Knowing that Dad knows the field of engineering, Tia said, “I feel like I have that to rely on,” and added when it was time to “sit down and think about college, and it only seemed natural to choose Penn State.”

Stason took his major very seriously and meant what he said about making a difference in the Dominican Republic. He co-founded and was president of the student chapter of “Engineers Without Borders” at Penn State, a group that is doing a clean water project in the Dominican Republic.

Water samples will be tested in the village of Caobete to see how an engineered water system will work.

Stason has had several job offers, both in Pennsylvania and other states. He said he still undecided what job he will accept.

The most important result of his education is seeing how it impacted his children.

“You can preach and preach to your kids about how important it is to invest in yourself and strive to do well in school but what validity do words have if you can’t do it yourself? All that comes across as just more parental jargon. Words are so cheap and everyone can easily tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I had the opportunity to say, ‘Fine don’t listen to me; watch me,’ and it worked in a big way.”