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January 2017

Mark Sciegaj enjoys learning from his students just as much as he enjoys teaching them.

More importantly, he wants to ensure his pupils are prepared to thrive in an industry that changes—and quickly.

“Academia is moving. Health care is moving. We have to constantly learn new things. We must continue to challenge conventional ways of doing things in order to make progress,” he said. “I hope, intellectually, the students will just keep moving –whether their ideas work or not, none of us should be afraid to fail.”

A longtime professor of health policy and administration, Sciegaj devotes his time to preparing students to enter the diverse and growing fields of health policy and health care administration.

For example, for many years, Sciegaj has taught HPA 101, Introduction to Health Services Organization, a popular course that covers the gamut of health policy concepts and themes, and sets the foundation for students interested in majoring in Health Policy and Administration (HPA) and a variety of other disciplines.

The coursework includes a series of group projects, including redesigning the health care system through a simulation game, ReThink Health.

Through ReThink Health, students are charged with understanding the impact of their decisions. Can they improve primary care efficiency, enable patients and doctors to share decision-making processes, or increase the number of primary care providers over the course of twenty-five years? How do these decisions interact with other decisions?

Sciegaj added, “Historically, more than 80 percent of HPA 101 students say the project has helped them better understand the concepts and challenges in the health care system.”

When an idea or concept doesn’t work out, Sciegaj challenges students to consider what they would do differently.

“I don’t expect students to achieve perfect scores on the simulation project, or else I wouldn’t assign it,” he said. “It’s OK to fail as long as you can do better next time. My hope is that students walk out of my classroom with continuous intellectual curiosity and a willingness to take risks.”

Sciegaj says his role with students keeps him on his toes, as he never knows what new discussions might arise.

“There’s always an opportunity for something new to come up in classroom discussion even in a course I’ve been teaching for many years,” he said. “New students and how they interpret the information provide an opportunity for new ideas.”

One challenge Sciegaj loves about teaching is finding ways to convey concepts to students, and to engage students, especially in large classes. Sciegaj teaches roughly 300 students at one time in his lecture class, in addition to about 40 students online.

Sciegaj is also professor-in-charge (PIC) of the undergraduate program, a position he’s held for three years. When he took on the role of PIC, Sciegaj said it was during a time when the department was going through some changes.

“At that time, the department was just finalizing a new curriculum for the bachelor of science degree, including developing new courses in health care payment and population health, a new online undergraduate program in HPA was just getting up and running, and the department was supporting three Commonwealth campuses who were beginning to offer the major,” he said. “It was an incredible challenge to accept this position, but I am very happy I did, it has been an incredible opportunity.”

When Sciegaj is not in the classroom, he’s studying ways to influence federal and state long-term service and support polices that enable elders and persons with disabilities address their personal care needs while being able to remain as independent as possible in their communities.

To this end his research focuses on person-centered and participant-directed long-term services and supports, policy implementation and program evaluation, and long-term services and support workforce development.

“Everyone ages,” he said about the relevancy of his work. “My research goals are to find ways long-term care services can help people age better.”

Sciegaj joined Penn State in 2008. He previously served as associate director of Smart Spaces Center at Penn State, a center to research dynamic, independent living (the center has since closed). Sciegaj received his doctoral degree on social policy from Brandeis University and a Master of Public Health degree from Emory University.