Meet Curtis Voelker — Mr. Central Penn, and the ‘Next Big Thing’
By Sherri Long
Knightly News Reporter
A picturesque autumn scene of colorful trees, a cloud-dappled blue sky and the historic Henszy’s Bridge is framed by the lobby windows on the second floor of Central Penn College’s Advanced Technology Education Center.
This iconic backdrop was the perfect setting for interviewing Curtis Voelker, admissions counselor at Central Penn College, who is often referred to as “Mr. Central Penn.”
Curtis Voelker, Mr. Central Penn, with his Standing Ovation Award, for “The Next Big Thing.” Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong.
The persona of Mr. Central Penn evolved from a creation of Voelker’s in 2010 that tied into a new marketing campaign for the college.
“Mr. Central Penn was originally Will Power, who hailed from the planet of Potential in the solar system of Success,” Voelker, 26, said.
Voelker is the presenter for the admissions team at Central Penn and is always thinking of creative ways to connect with potential students. He began is speaking career when he was a freshman in high school. At the request of the foster program he was in, he gave a presentation sharing his personal story of overcoming the adversity of his parents’ arrest, when he was 14.
We are family
Voelker was featured as part of a portrait series created by Uproot Creative Services that showcased the stories of people helping in their communities. Voelker’s personal story video is on Uproot’s site. Voelker continues to share his story during his presentations to connect with and encourage others.
Though his focus during high school visits is on recruiting students to attend Central Penn, it goes well beyond being a job for Voelker. He wants potential students to understand the sense of family that he has experienced at Central Penn since 2009.
“Central Penn brought that sense of family to me, brought that sense of belonging,” Voelker said. “No one else in my family went to college. I didn’t think college was an opportunity for me, and then I met Todd Milano (president in 2009), who kind of recruited me, brought me under his wing. So, I got these great mentors, these great father figures, great mother figures here on campus. They’ve done so much for me here and I just want to try to continue to do as much as I can for Central Penn.”
In 2012, Voelker earned his bachelor’s degree for business and marketing and was immediately hired by Central Penn. He enjoys being able to use his degree every day through recruiting and presenting, and is proud of the fact that Central Penn takes a unique approach to presenting to high school students.
“We’re one of the only colleges that do in-class presentations. Most admissions teams do what they call guidance visits,” said Voelker.
Guidance visits are appointments scheduled with a guidance counselor and students. The students sign up to participate during that time. According to Voelker, these scheduled visits may have one, three or five students who participate.
Voelker’s approach is to contact a high school teacher to schedule a classroom presentation. The teacher selects a theme of either finding the right college, managing conflict, understanding diversity, or how to make a good first impression. Voelker prefers to present to English classes because they usually contain students in the same grade level.
He also presents to school clubs and organizations, Future Business Leaders of America being one of them. Voelker serves as the alumnus representative for the Pennsylvania Future Business Leaders of America board of directors. He has been involved with the FBLA since his high school days.
“Serving FBLA is kind of my passions all rolled into one through serving the club I was in during high school, then through serving Central Penn, and then serving the students by being a part of the board.”
Dancing with the Stars
Voelker started serving on the board of the East Pennsboro Education Foundation in March. One of his main functions is emceeing Dancing with the East Pennsboro Stars, which is an annual major fundraising event. The main purpose of the foundation is to raise funds for educational purposes for East Pennsboro School District.
“One of the biggest things we’ve done is help fund the new media club at East Penn. It includes things like video cameras, sound equipment, helping students express themselves in different ways, in various projects and papers, and things like that,” Voelker said.
Although not an official representative of the college on the Pennsylvania FBLA or East Pennsboro Education Foundation boards, Voelker said he “doesn’t know if there’s ever a time that I can’t find a way to connect it to Central Penn because that’s my goal; that’s my mindset.”
Central Penn Education Foundation
Voelker serves on the Central Penn Education Foundation as a trustee, a role he began while a current student. He was the first and only current student who was elected to the Education Foundation Board of Trustees and has served since December 2011. As a trustee, he helps select scholarship recipients and raise funds for those scholarships.
One way to encourage the newest alumni to give back to the foundation is through the purchase of a True Cord. These cords are worn by the students at graduation and have their graduation year as the purchase price. This year’s cost was $20.17.
“It’s a simple way to have them start to think ‘Hey, this is a way I can give back.’ It gives them a good feeling when they walk across the stage. Hopefully, that grows.”
Another role for Voelker, as a trustee, is helping with student engagement.
“With myself being a former student, and staff member, and alumni, I really try to help in terms of engaging student involvement,” he explained. “I’ve done a couple of fundraisers with students to help increase the thought of philanthropy and what it means to give back to the alma mater.”
Voelker encourages current students to get involved with events on campus and the community, taking leadership roles, and to work toward leaving a legacy. Voelker and Dillon Epler, associate residence life director at Central Penn, created and led the first Central Penn men’s leadership retreat.
Men’s leadership retreat
The theme for the retreat, held in August, was “A Legacy for Leadership.” The seven participating students identified personal and professional goals, then identified things they are involved in on campus or in the community.
After identifying these, they examined whether their activities were helping them achieve their goals. They discussed what they hoped to leave behind on campus with Central Penn, what legacy they wanted build for themselves, and the importance of leaving a legacy.
The college has had women’s retreats for the last three years, but this was the first men’s retreat. Voelker and Epler, who were housemates during their college days, were pleased with the response.
“This is one of the biggest things we’ve talked about, about wanting to just give back in this way, with leadership and mentorship,” said Voelker. “The group of guys were fantastic. They all took something away from it. They absolutely enjoyed it.”
Voelker, who believes in leading by example, was able to achieve one of his personal and professional goals in October.
On Sunday, Oct. 15, Voelker achieved his goal of giving a TED Talk at TEDxHarrisburg. The sold-out event featured 12 speakers and 100 people in the audience.
The process to be one of the 12 speakers began in May with 60 applicants. According to Voelker, the theme for this event was “Evolve.” The TEDxHarrisburg committee reviewed the applications and proposals, and chose around 25 people for the second round. The second round required a one- to two-minute speaking sample.
“From there they chose the top 12, and those were the top 12 who spoke at the actual event,” Voelker said. “My sample presentation was basically two minutes of my personal story and how I could motivate others.”
Voelker’s TEDxHarrisburg presentation was entitled “Evolve through Adversity.” He involved the audience by having them simulate “the storm of success” through tapping feet and snapping fingers. He has received many requests and questions about being able to watch his presentation online. TED released the videos of TEDxHarrisburg 2017 on Nov. 22. Now, those who could not attend the live event may view Voelker’s presentation on The TEDxHarrisburg Team’s YouTube channel.
Voelker, TED Talk presenter. Photos by Sherri Long.
2017 has been a year full of service, goal achievement and recognition for Voelker. On Oct. 20, Voelker was awarded the Central Penn Alumni Standing Ovation Award in “The Next Big Thing” category. Voelker was one of four alumni nominees in that category.
Voelker as superhero in a panel presented at the Standing Ovation Awards in October. Photo courtesy Central Penn College.
The “Next Big Thing” award recognized “a graduate who stands out among peers for outstanding leadership and service prior to one’s tenth reunion year. Community service, professional accomplishments, and other significant achievements are considered,” according to the nomination flyer from the Central Penn Alumni Association.
Voelker paused, as he thought about what receiving the award meant to him.
“That meant a lot. It meant a lot because there were great nominees, across the board, for all of the different awards. I’m glad we did that because I don’t know if a lot of people realize the standout students that we have. Specifically, for myself, I appreciated the praise for the individual stuff that I did, but it’s really a team effort. It took all 25 nominees to get to where we (alumni) are today.”
When asked about earning his master’s degree in organizational leadership, Voelker shook his head, laughed and said, “Crazy.” He explained his response.
“Just thinking back. Littlestown. My graduating high school class was 87 students. We had one traffic light in the entire town. No one else in my family went to college, and I remember thinking, when I started Central Penn going for my bachelor’s, ‘Could I do it? What will the classes be like? What is this experience going to be like?’ I went through it, had an amazing experience, and then thought ‘Okay. Let’s keep it going.’ And then I got my master’s, and was just, like, wow!”
He is considering going for his doctorate.
“My grandma is asking me about it all the time. She wants a doctor in the family. I’m still looking for the free time I thought I’d have after I was done with my master’s, though,” Voelker said, laughing.
Voelker does have some free time, but not much during the busy fall season of visiting and presenting at high schools.
“Any free time that I do have I spend working out or hunting PEZ dispensers,” he said.
Voelker started collecting PEZ dispensers, again, in 2016. His original PEZ collection was started when his father gave him a couple PEZ dispensers, when Voelker was little.
“I had a huge collection up until age 12. I had a whole closetful of seven boxes, two full notebooks of inventory. I had some from Europe, from overseas, whole different kinds of PEZ dispensers. With my personal story, they eventually went away, so, I had to restart from scratch.”
What’s next for Voelker?
“I think right now, I just want to continue doing what I do now, pretty well. I want to increase, obviously, alumni council’s reach and position. Definitely want to increase the foundation. So, maybe no new projects, yet,” Voelker said.
But, Voelker said he is always open to opportunity and looking for ways to give back, which is something that is at his core. Specifically, finding ways to benefit Central Penn and its students and alumni, because he views Central Penn as his home and family.
“When we all continue to help each other learn and grow, we’re continually helping each generation of Central Penn students get that much better of an experience.”
Sherri Long is president of the Knightly News Media Club @ Central Penn College.
To comment on this article, or to suggest one, contact TheKnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.
Edited by Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi, club co-adviser.