ASPIRE scholarship program teaches students financial responsibility

A new scholarship program at Penn State New Kensington is the antithesis of the traditional awarding of scholarships. Instead of earning a scholarship to help pay for tuition after enrolling at the campus; recipients will receive a scholarship to help pay down debt after graduation from the campus.

ASPIRE (A Scholarship Program Inspiring Responsible Economics) was established last year as a support system to educate students on the importance of making healthy financial decisions. Students in the program have the opportunity to learn from financial professionals during on-campus workshops that are held twice during each semester and to get advice from Jennifer Marino, financial aid coordinator at the campus, throughout the year. The workshops are designed to help students make informed decisions about their finances while they are attending school and after graduation.

“The focus of the program is to learn about finances, spending responsibly and borrowing wisely,” said Marino, who serves as ASPIRE coordinator. “Our goal is to help students to save money while attending college and to graduate with less debt.”

Believed to be the first of its kind at any Penn State campus, ASPIRE is a collaborative effort by four campus units – Chancellor’s Office, Admissions and Financial Aid offices, and campus Advisory Board. The program was conceived by Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus, and Joe Defilippi, a member of the advisory board.

Defilippi developed the framework for helping students understand the economics behind a college education. Snider expanded the framework to help students curb their financial behavior by rewarding them at the end of their academic careers. Patty Brady, director of enrollment management, and Marino massaged the details, refined the project and implemented the program. 

“Joe and I had concerns about the rising debt that students face after graduation,” Snider said. "We committed to the success of our students and are passionate about educating them on financial matters.

In thinking about student debt, Snider and Defilippi identified three elements: higher education institutions, government investment and students themselves.

“I understand that higher education needs to control its costs, and I believe that state governments, in particular, need to increase their investment in education,” said Snider, who was named the campus’ eighth chancellor in 2008. “But, students also need to be responsible for their spending behavior. They need to consider costs and make lifestyle choices that allow them to live within their means and to borrow less. It is a joint effort.”

Snider was referring specifically to the need to adjust personal spending habits, particularly when it comes to using student loan funding or credit cards. The workshops demonstrated how credit interest can greatly increase the cost of a product. The program strives to produce educated consumers who make correct spending decisions.

“Buying the latest cellphone or high-definition television on credit can double the cost in the long run,” Snider said. “Students need to be aware of the economic pitfalls of these purchases and to make the sacrifice of holding off on big-ticket items until after graduation when they are in the workforce and more financially secured.”

Defilippi, an advisory board member since 1983, was a special guest speaker at the second workshop, and his presentation addressed the chancellor’s argument. He created a series of spreadsheets that showed the participants the full costs of a college education.”

Other workshop topics included budgeting money while in school, importance of saving, dangers of debt, explanation of interest rates and loan repayment strategies. In addition, the ASPIRE charter members received individualized instruction. Undergraduates who complete the program, and earn a degree from the campus, are awarded $1,000 for a bachelor’s degree or $500 for an associate degree.

“The scholarship is meant to assist students when they leave the campus as Penn State alumni,” Marino said. “We encourage them to use the funds to begin repaying educational loans.”

The inaugural ASPIRE class was formed in the fall semester of the 2012-13 academic year. With the spring semester winding down, 11 undergraduates have completed the first year in the program. The students are crediting the initiative for improving their financial acumen.

“ASPIRE has certainly been beneficial to me,” said Amy Kudranski, a junior in the Business program. “It has taught me to be more aware of my finances as a college student.”

“The program has helped me understand how money actually works,” said Ryan Long, a freshman administration of justice major. “I have changed a little bit in the ways I spend and save money.”

The program is open to students in the campus’ eight four-year programs (administration of justice, business, communications, electro-mechanical engineering technology, information sciences and technology, nursing, organizational leadership and psychology) and five two-year programs (biomedical engineering technology, business, information sciences and technology, letters, arts and sciences, and radiological sciences). Enrollment begins in the fall. For more information, contact Marino at 724-334-6046 or

Since coming to the campus, Snider has been at the forefront of numerous student-centered initiatives. Community partnerships are the cornerstone of Snider’s vision to make the Alle-Kiski Valley a better place to live, work and learn. The initiatives include Chancellor’s Fellowships, a program that allows students to collaborate with faculty on specific projects; GECKO (Green Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach), which allows freshman and sophomore education and science majors at the campus to share lessons with local elementary students; and GREAT (Growing Regional Engineering through Academics and Training), a collaboration of the New Kensington campus, Electro-Optics Center and industries in the region that establishes internships at local companies for engineering students.

A retired director of product technology research for U.S. Steel, Defilippi has supported the campus in a number of ways, among them as a donor and a volunteer. Along with his wife, he established the Joseph and Bonnie Defilippi Internship Scholarship, a $100,000 planned gift that provides financial assistance to students participating in an internship program, which helps students define career goals, develop skills and network. Defilippi holds a doctorate degree in materials science and engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, where he also earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. In 2012, Defilippi was formally recognized as an honorary alumnus by the Penn State Alumni Association at a black-tie dinner June 2 at University Park. The award is given to those who, while not graduates of Penn State, make important contributions to the University.

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Last Updated April 05, 2013