Living in the Highlands

by Nikki Crowley

Crowley Family

In the early spring of 2015, our soon-to-be family of three accepted jobs at Penn State University, and planned our move up from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We had a single whirlwind weekend to search for our first “family” home. Our ideal home would be close to our jobs on campus, have safe sidewalks, and have a diverse community with other families. As a one-car family, we wanted easy access to the types of things we loved (parks, outdoor spaces, and grocery stores). We only toured one home in the Highlands neighborhood that day – it feels like they are almost never on the market – and we immediately fell in love. We didn’t expect to have all of our wishes granted in a single home.

We still see the former owners of our home, Mark and Laura, and often update them on how our young son Harrison is growing up. In the period in between accepting our offer on the house and closing – a few months – we chatted with them frequently and let them know how our pregnancy was going. During our first few months in our new home, we loved finding remnants of their family – a hidden pacifier, placed on a high shelf during weaning, a “rock bug” with pipe cleaners wings and googly eyes in the garden. When we went to plant vegetables, we were delighted to see cherry tomatoes popping up from their days in the house. We never expected to have such a loving relationship with the people we bought our home from, and I suspect we probably never will again.

There are many things we love about the neighborhood: As parents, we love the diversity of families in the neighborhood. It feels like every weekend we are meeting new people outside on our walks, and our son is making new friends – I’m amazed at how many people say hello to us when we’re out and about. We love talking to our son about different family structures, and we are happy he sees and gets to know families that may not be exactly like his. We can often run errands without the use of a car, something we weren’t able to do in Chapel Hill. As University employees, we love being able to walk to work and our son’s daycare. We enjoy being in the center of the University community, and have enjoyed our fraternity partnership with SAE through the neighborhood’s Neighbor to Neighbor program – which gives us a connection to the undergraduates outside of the classroom and research labs. Our son loves seeing the spirit and excitement downtown on a football weekend, and often tries to collect stickers that are being handed out. And as adults who are not-that-young anymore but not-that-old yet, we too love being able to walk downtown for dinner or a cocktail, without driving or calling an Uber.

There will always be things I’ll hope to change about the neighborhood. I’ll always wish that people would drive just a little slower, and I wish we had more diversity in food options. But the great thing about the Highlands is that no matter what your concerns are, you’ll have a desire to stay and fix those things and make your neighborhood better.

Max and Nikki are both scientists at PSU – Max is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, where he received his PhD in 2012, while Nikki is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Biology, and received her PhD from UNC in 2015. Harrison is currently a toddler at the Bennett Family Center at PSU, and is a future scientist/astronaut/pilot/dinosaur wrangler. Nikki can be contacted by email at