Bernstine family endows Open Doors Scholarship at Penn State Shenango

The Bernstine Family

The Bernstines pose for a family picture at a recent campus event. From left to right: Sam, Pam, Dierks, Ilia and Aaron.

Credit: Stephanie Tharpe

SHARON, Pa. — The Bernstine family has made a $30,000 family contribution to Penn State to establish the Sam, Pam, Aaron, Ilia and Dierks Bernstine Open Doors Scholarship at the Shenango campus. The donation is part of the University-wide campaign “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence” and will leverage a 2:1 University match, increasing the fund to $90,000.

The Open Doors Programs were initiated to help students overcome the obstacles of earning a Penn State degree. In an effort to expand access and affordability, Penn State has created a number of programs, such as the Complete Penn State Program, to help students with unexpected financial hardships. When situations arise, like a parent’s illness or job loss, this program will provide aid and assistance to students to help them complete their degrees.  

“We are incredibly grateful to our generous donors, like the Bernstine family, who invest in the education of our students,” said Penn State Shenango Director of Development Allison Engstrom. “From the first time I met the Bernstines, it was clear to me that they truly bled blue and white. The Shenango campus couldn’t be more appreciative of their support, and now, every year, students will benefit from their Open Doors Scholarship.”  

Sam Bernstine said, “As a family, we deeply appreciate Penn State's long history and tradition for providing academic opportunities for students from all economic and social backgrounds. We have personally experienced the life-changing opportunities made possible with a Penn State education, which is why we find it so gratifying to establish an Open Doors Scholarship. It is our hope that this scholarship will provide deserving students with the opportunity to achieve their dreams and to contribute to bettering our community.” 

As a 2+2 student, Bernstine attended Penn State Shenango (then known as The Penn State Shenango Valley Campus), from 1974-76 and transferred to the University Park campus in 1976, where he obtained his four-year degree in health and human development/individual and family studies in 1978. While at Shenango, Bernstine was involved in many organizations, including the Student Government Association, as well as being a student athlete on the men’s basketball team. A Renaissance Scholar, Bernstine knows firsthand how scholarships can truly benefit students. He said, “If the Bernstine family can help to positively impact the lives of future Penn Staters by ensuring that they secure their degree, then we are indeed making a difference. I was blessed with the receipt of multiple scholarships throughout my career at Penn State and it is time to give back.”

It is no surprise to those who know Bernstine that he received the University’s Penn State Volunteer of the Year Award twice this decade. As the Penn State Shenango Advisory Board President, Bernstine is very active in the fundraising efforts of Penn State Shenango and is commonly known as “Mr. Shenango.” He is very involved with the University and represents the Shenango campus at many annual fundraising and athletic events. He previously served as a member of the Penn State Alumni Association Executive Board and is currently a member of the University Park Renaissance Scholarship Board and the College of Health & Human Development Alumni Society Board. Bernstine is also an active member of the Penn State Shenango Alumni Society and a board member of the Lawrence County Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association. Both Bernstine, and his lovely wife of nearly 40 years, Pam, are lifetime members of the Penn State Alumni Association.

“Sam was one of the first board members that I met when I came to the Shenango campus four years ago,” said Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, campus director and chief academic officer. “He, along with his family, have been so very generous to our campus. As president of our advisory board and past president of our alumni society, Sam has given so much of his time and support to help make our campus stronger and more recognized in the community. This most recent contribution is yet another substantial gift which shows how committed Sam and his family are to Penn State and our students.”   

Aaron Bernstine graduated from Penn State in 2006 with a business degree from Smeal College. He is a state representative for portions of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties. His wife, Ilia, graduated from Penn State in 2011 with a nuclear engineering degree. She works for Westinghouse Electric Company as a product engineer. They have one son, Dierks, who is already a huge Penn State fan and became the youngest ever lifetime member of the Penn State Alumni Association upon his birth in March of 2015. Both Aaron and Ilia Bernstine also are lifetime members of the Penn State Alumni Association.

"We are privileged to have the opportunity to give back to students who will be attending Penn State for generations to come,” said Aaron Bernstine. “These students will earn an exceptional education that will provide them limitless opportunities in the future. We are proud to help ease the financial burden on their journey to success."

The Open Doors Scholarship Program offers a 2:1 match from University funds for private gifts to endow scholarships for undergraduates with financial need who are enrolled in the University’s Open Doors Programs. It is designed to help students overcome financial hurdles to remain on track toward graduation. 

This gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship.

To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit or contact the Development Office at Penn State Shenango at 724-983-2900.