The Squirrel Whisperer

September 6, 2016 at 10:35 am 8 comments

mary krupa

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.

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Entry filed under: From the Magazine, The Penn Stater Magazine, University Park. Tags: , , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Debra Murphy Darr  |  September 7, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Love your photos & settings! They
    Always make me smile! Thank you!

  • 2. Jonnie Dorsey  |  September 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Mary you are a kindhearted young lady and an inspiration! I love the Sneezy posts! Keep up the good work!

  • 3. Dr. Nanette de Fuentes  |  September 7, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Love the photos Sneezy will help people appreciate and respect all wildlife. She is a good teacher! I rescued and hand raised a little squirrel named “Peter” in the early 1970s my family and friends still talk about him! He was very loved🐿

  • 4. eabailey1  |  September 13, 2016 at 12:44 am

    I really love this story on so many levels. Thanks for publishing it.

  • 5. Sherry Sauerwine  |  September 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Terrific article. Mary — you have done a remarkable thing — connecting with a wild animal. I love squirrels and I also have connected with particular ones over the years. It takes time, patience, love and trust on the part of the human and the squirrel. Very proud of you and all of your accomplishments. Early congratulations for your December graduation and best wishes to you on whatever you pursue in the future.

  • 6. acpsteve  |  October 31, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Wonderful story about a wonderful person! Penn State Proud!

  • 7. Anonymous  |  December 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    This story made me smile…I just back back from a trip to London and saw cute, very friendly squirrels in Hyde Park….they would come right up and want a snack from the humans…so cute! Love all the photos and appreciation of our wild friends.

  • 8. Nancy Rose  |  January 14, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    From my backyard in Nova Scotia, I have been photographing squirrels in small dioramas with props I make and lo and behold, you are doing something similar at Penn State. Your work is beautiful and I sure would love to meet you! If you ever travel this way please come for a visit!!!

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