Penn College Presents Awards to Three Alumni

Published 05.17.2008

Alumni News

Mel Tra with Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour.Pennsylvania College of Technology has presented a Distinguished Alumnus Award to Mel Tra and Alumnus/Alumna Achievement Awards to Jill E. Hoffines-Erb and Timothy E. Hess. The awards were presented during commencement ceremonies May 16-17 at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport.

The Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award is given annually in recognition of personal and professional accomplishments, contributions toward furthering the efforts of the college and the high regard in which the recipient is held in the community.

Alumnus/Alumna Achievement Awards are presented annually to Penn College graduates from the past 10 years. The award recognizes noteworthy career accomplishments that demonstrate the importance of a Penn College education and honors graduates who continue to support the mission of the college.

Tra, of Williamsport, is the owner of Tra Electric Inc. Hoffines-Erb is the owner of Floral Designs of Mount Joy. Hess is chief photojournalist for WSLS TV, an NBC affiliate in Roanoke, Va.

Mel Tra Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Tra graduated from high school third in his class and then joined the army at the age of 17. In 1975, at the age of 20, he came to the United States. He had no family here, spoke no English and had no money. Sponsored by a local church group, he lived with a local family and got his first job within a week − mixing mud and carrying block.

Tra learned to speak English primarily from watching TV and using a translation dictionary. His first formal training in English came when he joined a local GED class in order to become eligible to enroll in college classes.

In 1982, he became a U.S. citizen; five years later, he enrolled in the electrical construction technology program at Williamsport Area Community College, a forerunner of Penn College.

While he was a student, Tra received an assignment that involved designing the lighting for a new building on campus: the Thompson Professional Development Center. Designed and built by students, faculty and staff, the facility serves as a conference center for the college and community guests.

Tra graduated in 1987 and went to work for a local contractor. He returned to campus in 1994 to take AutoCAD classes. Tra Electric was established in 1998. The business − which includes electrical design and construction for residential, commercial and industrial projects, as well as PennDOT traffic-signal and highway-lighting projects − has grown to more than 20 employees.

Through his company, Tra supports Habitat for Humanity, providing free labor and materials for the charitable organization's projects. He has remained a strong supporter of Penn College, employing students and graduates and providing electrical work on campus, including the renovation of Le Jeune Chef Restaurant and construction of the Center for Business & Workforce Development.

Tra resides in Loyalsock Township with his wife, Diane, and daughter Meghan.

President Gilmour with Jill E. Hoffines-Erb.Jill E. Hoffines-ErbHoffines-Erb, who was raised on a farm in Marietta, Lancaster County, graduated from Penn College in 2000 with an associate degree in floral design/interior plantscape. After working for a year at a greenhouse, she opened her own business in 2002.

Floral Designs of Mount Joy employs nine people. The business designs arrangements for approximately 80 weddings a year. Hoffines-Erb's designs also have been used in the Pennsylvania Governor's Mansion and at Millersville University and Elizabethtown College, both located near her hometown.

She was a presenter in a floral design show ("The Pathway to Beautiful Floral Designs") on the Penn College campus several years ago. She also has presented designs at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Hoffines-Erb is active in her community, working with the Mount Joy Business and Professional Women's Club (for whom she has served as vice president) and the Mount Joy Chamber of Commerce. She is the 2008 director of the Pennsylvania Floral Industry Association and has served on the advisory board of the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center since 2006. She is an instructor of adult education for the center.

She also is an instructor for the Donegal Education Association adult classes and volunteers for local schools and organizations, as well as various Lancaster County 4-H activities.

Timothy E. Hess and Penn College's president.Timothy E. HessHess earned an associate degree in broadcast communications from Penn College in 1998. After working for a year as a producer/editor for a local cable-advertising company, Hess moved into television news. His first position was as a photographer with WBTW TV in Myrtle Beach, S.C. One year later, he began his employment with WSLS.

He has covered many national news stories in recent years, including the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech University in 2007, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Isabel in 2003 (for Media General Inc.), the D.C. sniper shootings, a plane crash that killed members of the Hendricks Motorsports family, and the Jennifer Short murder case. His live shots have been broadcast by NBC's "Today," CNN and MSNBC.

Hess has been honored with Associated Press awards for "best spot news coverage" and "best documentary/in-depth report," as well as Emmy Awards from the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for features on a "bicycle boot camp" for bike-patrol police officers in Roanoke and home smoke alarms/detectors that fail to wake younger children. He is a member of the National Press Photographers Association.

Hess volunteers for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the United Way. He also competes on a softball team that plays in various benefit tournaments.

For more information about the Alumni Relations Office at Penn College, visit online , e-mail or call toll-free 1-877-PCT-ALUM.