Fire pit sparks collaboration, community

Published 05.02.2024

Photos by Matt Deane, student photographer (unless otherwise noted)

Student Life
Welding & Metal Fabrication
Faculty & Staff
Campus and People
Residence Life
At the "First Fire," Patrick C. Evanko (left) and Nikolas J. Harnish get set to "do the honors," lighting Residence Life's new fire pit for its inaugural gathering. The resident assistants and welding students are among those who carried the torch to make the community-building project happen.

Mesmerizing and relaxing, there's just something about a fire pit that stirs conversation and strengthens bonds. That simple yet powerful tool is taking "center stage" in Penn College's residence hall community, thanks to a collaboration between Residence Life and the college's American Welding Society student chapter.

A fire pit, crafted by welding students who are also resident assistants, has taken up residence on the main sidewalk in Rose Street Commons, the area joining six of the college's residence halls.

"I think it is a perfect example of how this college is so hands-on, when students can actually create things that will benefit the college community and live on long after they are gone," said Nikolas J. Harnish, one of the masterminds and artisans behind the project. "I have helped create the motorcycle and fire pit during my time at Penn College, and I definitely will visit, in years to come, to still reminisce about the times here. That is the reason I love helping with projects such as this so much."

A welding student, AWS member and senior resident assistant for Clinton, Dauphin and Juniata residence halls, Harnish was talking with Ashley M. Hunter, coordinator of residence life operations & facilities, when the idea for a student-crafted fire pit was first sparked. Prior to that conversation, a string of popular fire pit gatherings outside the residence halls had occurred during the Fall 2023 semester, and residence life staff was discussing ways to replicate the success.

"We were talking about programs that really brought out the greatest number of diverse students during the fall semester," Hunter explained. "During the conversation, the program that came right to mind was when Lancaster and York RAs had a program around an RA’s fire pit from home where they made mountain pies and s'mores. The event brought out over 100 students who were all just hanging out. The students were setting up their camping chairs, blankets and hammocks on the concrete near the north gate of Rose Street Commons, just talking, laughing and enjoying the outdoors. That specific program then started a wave of other RAs borrowing the same, cheap fire pit to have similar events throughout the complexes. Every event brought the students out to have a traditional campfire. Simple, but exactly what Penn College students enjoy doing and want."

Hunter worked on a proposal to be presented at a monthly meeting with General Services and Student Affairs; it was well received and approved by leadership. Materials were ordered, and Harnish enlisted the help of Patrick C. Evanko, another RA, welding student and AWS chapter president, and together, they received the additional blessing of welding faculty. The effort to enhance the sense of community on campus was, indeed, a community effort.

The newly crafted fire pit was recently set in place, and a "First Fire" was celebrated by those who carried the torch to make it happen, including AWS students, Residence Life and General Services staff. The collaborative community gathered 'round the fire pit to toast marshmallows, savor s'mores and, of course, bond over a few good stories.

(Harnish and Evanko are graduating next week with their Bachelor of Science degrees in welding & fabrication engineering technology. They earned their associate degrees in welding technology in 2022.)

First glow ...
... and first marshmallows!
Dyshon K. Bryant, an RA in The Village residence life complex, joins in the fun. He is enrolled in software development & information management.
A display board, titled "Sparks of Compliance," shows the specifications the project needed to meet to be in compliance with Lycoming County regulations.
Among the images on the posterboard is this photo taken in the welding lab, showing Evanko and Harnish nearing completion of their creation. (Photo provided.)
S'mores station! Ashley M. Hunter, coordinator of residence life operations & facilities (at center) joins Hannah N. Cordes (right), residence life office assistant and surgical technology student, in distributing supplies during the First Fire. Barbara A. Adzema, residence life assistant, is on the left.
Timothy J. Mallery, interim director of residence life and student conduct, prepares for a sweet treat.
Aidan J. Weissenberger, an RA in Dauphin Hall and a senior in architecture and sustainable design, tries his hand at marshmallow-perfection, as Benjamin R. Thomas, director of construction and planning, looks on.
With residence halls as the backdrop, the "First Fire" begins its magnetic attraction ...
... drawing an ever-increasing crowd to its mesmerizing flame.
Residence Life is ready to ignite more community-building for students.