First generation IST student takes the lead in her education

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Obstacles never stopped Jackie Sanchez from pursuing her goals — they only provided her with more opportunities to be a leader.

Sanchez, a junior in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) majoring in security and risk analysis with a focus in cybersecurity, was recently awarded the David S. Suarez Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, named for a 1999 College of Engineering alumnus who died during the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001, provides recognition and financial assistance to eligible juniors. Two students receive the award annually based on outstanding character references.

The scholarship, according to Sanchez, who also is earning a minor in psychology, helped ease the cost of paying for college.

“The [scholarship] meant a lot, not only to me, but to my family,” she said.

Sanchez had already saved money to help pay her tuition prior to receiving the scholarship, but she is now able to place her focus elsewhere and save that money for future needs.

“Essentially, it means being able to focus more on school and extracurricular activities rather than the financial burden of tuition and college in general,” she said. 

Sanchez, a first-generation college student, does not underestimate the importance of financial aid in academia and acknowledges that to receive certain types of aid, a high GPA is required.

“For [my parents] to see me do well really makes them proud,” said Sanchez. “It’s given me the drive and determination needed to keep up my grades, be involved, and overall be a well-rounded student.”

Sanchez’s success doesn’t stop inside the classroom. She’s an executive member on the Women in IST (WIST) board and a member of the IST honor society. She's also a learning assistant for IST 110 and a production specialist in IST’s Office of Learning Design.

She has never had difficulty taking on leadership roles, and she often spearheads anything from official meetings to class projects.

“Growing up with two older siblings, I asserted myself to be heard, mainly by just being louder,” she said.

As the youngest of three, she worked hard to have a say. This self-positioning eventually translated into her academic life, as well. Sanchez shared that her leadership skills, which started off by gathering her fellow preschoolers to pray for their sick teacher, eventually morphed into more mature roles, such as her position in WIST.

Sanchez, however, doesn’t automatically establish herself in that role.

“I take on opportunities that may be difficult or challenging to develop myself as a person, thus being a leader,” she said. “Also, it pays to see hard work pay off.”

Sanchez is determined to continue achieving all of her goals at Penn State.

“[I hope to] just keep growing as a person and learn new things — there’s so much to learn and not enough time!”

The lessening of a financial responsibility from the scholarship has given her more time to focus in other areas, which she hopes to use to learn more technical skills in classes, mentor women in WIST, and finish the last "Game of Thrones" book. By continuing her regular appearances on the dean’s list and achieving her goal of graduating with honors, she is excited for a career that is both fulfilling and serves as a good example for future students.

As for long-term goals, Sanchez isn’t ready to make concrete plans about her future.

“I like to plan and be organized, but at the same time I like to see where the flow takes me,” she said. “Keeping an open mind means not necessarily knowing what’s next and being OK with change.”

But her ultimate goal is to share her prosperity back with her family, which has supported her every step of the way.

“My overall goal is to just be successful, whatever that may entail, and to be able to give back to my parents,” Sanchez said.

Last Updated October 31, 2017