Maintaining a 3.96 grade point average in college is no easy feat.

Maintaining that while working part-time, dealing with a family crisis and also participating in clubs and projects left and right?

Then you have Penn State York's Katie Kosalek.

Kosalek, 21, is the top graduating student in the communication arts and sciences program and will serve as the program's marshal in Friday's commencement.

It's the culmination of four years of work the West York High School graduate said proved both rewarding and difficult.

For instance, there was the matter of paying for school.

Even as she racked up activities -- she was a Lion Ambassador and a campus programming board member -- she had to keep a part-time job to help pay tuition and books.

"It's difficult to make sure you're working and making the money you need to get yourself through it, but also have the time to focus on your studies," Kosalek said.

Another challenge: Two years into school, though, a much more complicated and difficult hurdle arrived. Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"It's hard to even process. You already have so much going on. You feel like you're going to drop everything to focus on that," she said of concern for her mom's health.

Fortunately, doctors caught the cancer early and were able to get her mom into remission.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2010, Kosalek got an exclusive opportunity to do an undergraduate research project with two professors, Joe Downing and Mark Casteel. She helped research whether text messaging could be used to send an emergency alert to students.

The texting process didn't turn out to be effective enough to use, but she says she gained valuable experience.

And all of her college experience and that sparkling GPA have led her to getting a full-time job with PoolPak, where she'll work in human resources.

But does she have any regrets about how she approached college, given her success?

"I wish I would've learned time management skills faster," she said with a laugh. "That's what it all comes down to."

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or ashaw@yorkdis, or on Twitter @ydblogwork