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December, 6, 2016

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Campus critters are nuts for Penn State's 'Squirrel Girl'

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania -- Penn State students know her as the Squirrel Whisperer, or even Squirrel Girl. Which suits Mary Krupa just fine.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old senior became an internet sensation for placing tiny hats on the ubiquitous rodents that live near Penn State's landmark Old Main building, and coaxing them to hold miniature props.

Though her Penn State career is winding down, Krupa is still up to her old tricks. Her photos of "Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel" continue to garner thousands of likes on Facebook and have been featured in magazines and calendars.

"It's nice to make something and see that people like it. But I didn't think it would last this long or become this popular," said Krupa, who graduates next month.

She began interacting with Penn State's famously friendly gray squirrels her first week on campus in 2012. Krupa idly wondered what one would look like with a hat on its head, and, pleased with the result, sent a photo to her grandmother, who loved it.

With Penn State reeling from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, Krupa decided her fellow students could also use a laugh.

"Everyone was really just down in the dumps, and I figured that Penn State needed something good to take their mind off things, cheer up. And so I started posting these pictures on Facebook."

Krupa's anthropomorphized Sneezy would become an unofficial mascot — Penn State's very own Rocket J. Squirrel or Chip and Dale — and, over the course of her college career, the English major dreamed up many amusing scenes for the squirrelly star.

There's Sneezy pushing a tiny shopping cart filled with acorns. Sneezy holding a jack-o'-lantern at Halloween. Sneezy raking leaves, rooting for the home team and drinking tea, mostly while wearing an assortment of squirrel-size hats.

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