The Squirrel Whisperer
How an unlikely friendship with Penn State’s squirrels put a student in the spotlight—and helped her manage her autism.
Story by Amy Strauss Downey ’04 / photographs by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
This story appears in the September/October issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.
The sun was shedding afternoon rays on the faces of fans inside Beaver Stadium last September. Down on the field, the Nittany Lion mascot was rounding up a crew of campus celebrities—Mike the Mailman, Schreyer Honors College dean Christian Brady, men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky—for a skit during a commercial break in the first quarter. Among those big personalities was a 21-year-old student in jeans and a navy T-shirt. Her long, light-brown hair was pulled back low into a ponytail.
Until that Saturday, Mary Krupa, a senior English major, had never even been to a Penn State football game. But a performance in front of 95,000 fans didn’t faze her, because she’s been in the public eye since she was a freshman. She’s known on campus—and around the world—as “The Squirrel Whisperer” or “Squirrel Girl.” And despite her unassuming appearance, her story is the stuff that comic books are made of: a college kid whose superpower is to talk to Penn State squirrels.
When it was Krupa’s turn, the howling chorus of “Animals” by Maroon 5 blasted over the stadium speakers. She kept to script and jogged toward the Lion and cheerleaders, who were holding up a poster that read “Hang Out with the PSU Squirrels.” She did some quick improv with the Lion, and then jogged back to her spot in the end zone.
And the crowd roared.