Student at Penn State Abington Incredible Journey from Poverty to Degree

Breshay Lewis’s incredible journey from Penn State Altoona, to University Park, and now the Abington campus will culminate with a degree in May. (Image via

Almost 40 percent of Penn State Abington’s students come from low-income families. They work several jobs, many spend long hours riding public transportation to and from campus, and half of them are the first in their families to attend college.

“As an African-American woman and the first in my family to attend a university, it wasn’t easy to get the proper support that I needed,” said Breshay Lewis, a fifth-year senior.

“I had parents who paid my tuition, but I couldn’t rely on them to help me emotionally or mentally prepare for my college journey.”

Lewis, a Philadelphia resident, enrolled at Penn State Altoona before transferring to University Park as a junior.

“This is when my life changed,” she said. “I only had my father supporting me financially, so I had to pick up a job where I worked overnight four nights a week and went directly to class in the morning.

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My grades plunged, and my pay still wasn’t enough. … I returned to my childhood home and still didn’t have much support.”

Lewis then enrolled at Abington, about five miles from home. She connected with Tina Vance-Knight, director of the Center for Career and Professional Development, and completed a work-study in the center.

“Ms. Tina always encouraged me and helped me identify my strengths, and I became a better student,” Lewis said.

“Abington is where I found support and began to flourish professionally and academically. I worked three jobs last semester, and I earned A’s and B’s.”

Lewis plans to graduate in May 2018 with a degree in psychological and social sciences. She hopes to earn a master’s degree and eventually open her own business.

Click here to read more of her story.

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