Scholarship support helps honors student succeed

Dionna Littles’ father made one thing clear when she left home for college in the summer of 2009.

College is work. College is a career. College is a job.

And, given Littles’ success during her time at Penn State, it’s a job she’s good at.

“I’m the first in my immediate family to be graduating from college,” said Littles, a senior Schreyer Scholar majoring in chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. “I would have to say that my time here has been one of a lot of personal growth both academically and professionally.”

Much of that growth has come through internships and co-ops putting what she has learned about chemical engineering to work. Littles ticks off five such opportunities during her time at Penn State – one with a food conglomerate, one with a pharmaceutical company and three with Dow Chemical, which has offered her a full-time position as a production engineer at a polyethylene manufacturing plant in Texas.

“Those experiences really changed everything for me,” Littles said. “I realized after my last internship this summer that I want to be in manufacturing. I have a very strong interest in the materials sciences, and I’m going to be working in polyethylene, which is awesome because that’s probably the No. 1 polymer produced in the U.S., and Dow is the No. 1 producer of polyethylene. It’s my dream job.”

Littles credits support she has received from her parents, the Schreyer Honors College and other University programs such as the Office of Engineering Diversity with helping her realize her dream.

“One thing my father used to always tell me is that ‘your job is to be a student,’” Littles said. “Scholarships allow you to focus on that one job.”
Before Littles even arrived on campus, her mother scoured listings to find financial aid programs.

“My mother worked hard to help me find scholarships to fund my college education and allow me to concentrate on exceling academically,” Littles said.

Scholarships funded through private support have played an even more important part in Littles’ fifth and final year at Penn State. The co-op she participated in the spring of her junior year pushed her into a fifth year of study in order to complete her honors thesis. But her fifth year is not eligible for the Schreyer Honors College’s $4,000 annual Academic Excellence Scholarship, which is offered to Schreyer Scholars when they enter the college as freshmen and is awarded for four years.

Honors scholarships helping fill that gap have included the J. Ronald and Patricia L. Gatehouse Scholarship, the Ram and Shanti Singh Scholarship and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Honors Scholarship.

“I have received scholarships I didn’t even know about from Schreyer that have helped me so much,” Littles said. “To have that type of support is even more of a blessing for me.”

Littles said since her first visit to University Park she has felt Penn State is where she belonged.

“Penn State was actually my No. 1 choice,” said Littles, who is from Piscataway, N.J. “I started on Google looking at top engineering schools, and Penn State was on the list. When I came to visit, the faculty in the College of Engineering was very friendly. It just felt like a home away from home.

“Then when I was leaving, I looked over and saw Old Main, and I fell in love. There was that big, open lawn, that huge building and the sun shining through the trees, and I was like ‘This is it.’”

Now, she is preparing to head to a new place that’s feeling more and more like home.

“I love it in Texas,” Littles said. “I’ve become very familiar with the area and the business. My parents are struggling a little bit with the distance, but they’re warming up to it. They tell me to finish strong, to keep working hard, keep your head up and keep striving. I’m looking at the finish line, but I’m just not there yet.”

Yet. It won’t be long before Littles wraps up this job and moves on to the next.

Last Updated January 10, 2014