‘Speaking to the next generation’: State auditor general spends the day at CHS

Journalism students at Cranberry High School, Isabella Whitling (senior) and Bradyn Brown (freshman), interview Auditor General Timothy DeFoor. (Photo by Jenna Biltz/Student contributor)
Student contributors

Cranberry High School opened its doors on March 21, 2024, to Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Timothy DeFoor, who shared his experience and knowledge with students.

Hayden Rigo, the auditor general’s chief of staff and a member of the Innovation Institute for Tomorrow’s (II4T) board of directors, connected DeFoor with Cranberry High School.

Tim Heffernan, president of II4T, spoke at a board meeting, which Rigo attended. Upon highlighting the robotics program at Cranberry High School, Rigo and Heffernan made arrangements to schedule a visit so DeFoor could see the program.

Cranberry High School has two robotics divisions: Intro to Robotics, taught by Zach Bedee, and Intro to Technology, taught by Dan O’Brien. Both teachers are coaches of the after-school robotics program.

“Hayden [Rigo] shared with Timothy [DeFoor]  the work we have done at II4T to support STEM education and the great work that Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Bedee do in the classroom,” stated Heffernan.

“Like II4T, [DeFoor] prioritizes creating opportunities that promote keeping kids in Pennsylvania after graduation and he wanted to learn more. So, in addition to visiting our nonprofit, it made a lot of sense for him to visit the high school and students to see it all,” Heffernan continued.

DeFoor spent time with students involved in the VEX Robotics program.

“Teams showcased and discussed their engineering design process, engineering notebook, and specific robot functions that helped them become successful in their recent competitions,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien and Bedee spoke about the success and future goals of the robotics program at Cranberry.

“Our future goals are to continue growing the program and increasing student involvement. We would also like to build into other facets, such as the social media side of it, graphic design, 3D modeling, video editing, and offering larger competitions/workshops,” noted Bedee.

Speaking with Seniors

While at the high school, DeFoor spoke with a group of seniors, who were engaged in learning about future goals and opportunities.

During a Q&A, he was asked about paying for college, and tuition costs in general, and he told the students that the investment they make in themselves is the most important one they will ever make.

DeFoor also urged students to recognize local problems. 

Identifying needs and investing in communities is a key part of DeFoor’s job, and he encourages seniors to lead by example, which will benefit the community in the coming years.

DeFoor spoke about his involvement and commitment to his community by talking about HANNA’s Pantry, part of the HANNA Foundation, created in response to a nutritional need for Susquehanna Township School District students.

“About eight years ago, the school district that I went to, the school district that I now live in, there was a fourth or fifth grader that was on the playground. She had passed out…she hadn’t eaten in over a day because her family didn’t have the money to afford any type of food… Food insecurity, no matter where you are – it’s real. So we started working with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and came up with this idea of a pantry.”

In addition to advocating for people experiencing food insecurity, DeFoor is also a proponent of educational opportunities for career advancements in finance.

DeFoor provided information to the students regarding the Intern to Hire Initiative, which gives college students a chance to explore careers through paid internships and is meant to create a pathway to employment.

“We’ve now created that opportunity at community colleges,” said DeFoor. “If you are majoring in any type of field relating to accounting and finance, and you’re interested in a career with the Department of Auditor General, and you want to enter an intern-to-hire program, all you need to do to apply is graduate from the community college. And if you get accepted to the intern-to-hire program, after you graduate from the program, you’re going to have a job with us.”

The Intern to Hire program kicked off in October 2022 with 14 students.

With those 14 students, the auditor general and his team are seeing success with the opportunities of the initiative.

“About a month ago, we had a press conference where we announced the first graduate of the program,” asserted DeFoor.

This speaks to the success of the Intern to Hire program and allows high school seniors to understand the value of a program like this as well as encourages students to look for these kinds of opportunities.

Personal Interview

After speaking with VEX robotics students, DeFoor was interviewed by two Cranberry High School journalism students, senior Isabella Whitling, and Bradyn Brown, a freshman.

“I thought I was on CNN,” joked DeFoor.

“Good government is about people, not politics,” DeFoor said when asked why he travels to various schools and talks with students.

He conveyed that “speaking to the next generation” is the most rewarding part of his position, and that he enjoys “just being able to speak with people throughout the country.”

“When I was your age, I was a terrible high school student, and it’s because of people coming up in my life that helped me along the way to get to where I am now…I feel like I have a personal and moral obligation to help the next generation. So I feel that my role in government is to prepare the next generation, no matter where you’re from,” DeFoor commented. “That’s one of the reasons why I got involved with government. I look at government as a public service, and I feel like I owe a debt to a society that’s helped me.”

He believes that financial education is part of his obligation to prepare students for real life. According to a 2023 report, only 17% of young adults said they took a personal finance class in high school.

DeFoor noted that everyone will need to be able to read a paycheck which is a fundamental part of life: “One of the things about financial literacy or financial education is that we are all going to need it at some point or another, regardless of what you do.”

“What is it that you need to do in order to save to buy some of the things that you want? What is it like to understand credit? Because you’re going to need good credit in order to buy a car or to get a house. If you go to college and you have a student loan, what are my obligations with regard to the student? And am I going to be able to afford to pay it once I get out?” DeFoor asked some introspective questions and then continued,  “So no matter what you do in your life, and it could be something in the financial services industry, it could be something completely opposite. The one thing about both of those things is that you’re going to have to understand money.”

In discussing topics important to high school students now, DeFoor believes it is important to talk about questions flooding the minds of soon-to-be college students.

“My own personal feeling is the better educated the student is when they come out of high school knowing about money and financial education and financial literacy, the smarter consumer they’re going to be,” voiced DeFoor.

He stated, “As far as what teachers can do, and I see especially at this school, they’re already doing it, is just to educate. And whether it’s with regards to financial literacy or whether it’s with regards just to literacy, the basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic, teachers, in my opinion, are mentors.”

DeFoor also believes that students have a responsibility when it comes to their education.

During the interview, he was asked what advice he would give to a high school student.

DeFoor encouraged students to “keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to explore other options.”

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he suggested.

DeFoor made a point while talking to Isabella Whitling and Bradyn Brown, that students should “go somewhere and get lost. But make sure you find your way home.  Learn as much as you possibly can and then once you gain that knowledge, out on the outside, if an opportunity exists, you know what’s going on.”

DeFoor, who grew up in Susquehanna Township North of Harrisburg, said, “I did not come from a rural area, but I have a lot of friends and family that come from rural areas, and it really doesn’t matter how big or how small you are. Don’t ever think that you’re not important because you are.”

This belief in an individual’s importance is reflected in DeFoor’s advocacy for his Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative (DEI), which centers itself around inclusion and opportunity.

“So it’s pretty much a holistic look at diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I think it’s one of the better things that we’ve done within the department,” articulated DeFoor.

DeFoor remarked there was not a program like this when he entered the office and it was needed.

When asked how this initiative works, DeFoor explained, “You start by changing the environment, your own environment…We all have our little ecosystems that we’re very comfortable with. And as we all know, there’s more outside the world than our own little ecosystem.”

According to DeFoor, the DEI Initiative relies on communication between diverse people. He explained that people learn best about diversity and inclusion by hearing directly from other employees who share the lives they live every day. People share their lives with others in the workplace to create common ground.

Not only does DeFoor’s office benefit from the DEI initiative, but it also inspired changes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s DEI initiative. 

“They did look at ours. They made changes because of my team,” he said.

Cranberry High School welcomed Auditor General Timothy DeFoor with open arms as he visited the rural area and talked about programs implemented to aid students’ successes, connecting people in the workplace and the community, and lastly, recognizing the accomplishments of the STEM projects and opportunities already in place at CHS.


Rylee Coe, Addysen Fawcett, Jenna Biltz, Maria Galletta, Isabella Whitling, and Bradyn Brown are students at Cranberry High School and members of Cranberry Chronicles, the school’s journalism/publications class.