For the Future enables alumnus to accomplish ‘American Dream’

April 11, 2014

While most of his high school freshmen peers were settling into their new surroundings, Alex Han and his family were packing up their lives and moving a continent away. Giving up successful careers in South Korea, Alex’s parents moved everything to the Philadelphia suburbs to give their son a chance at a U.S. college education — their American Dream.

“My dad asked me one day, ‘Do you want to pursue an educational opportunity in the States?’” Alex said. “I thought about it for a moment, and I told him, ‘yes,’ without recognizing the impact of that decision on my parents. In about two or three months, my dad quit his job, and my mom sold her business. My parents really wanted to make an investment in my education because they envisioned how it would make a difference in my life and my family’s life.”

The first member of his family to enroll in college, Alex soon found the tuition bills to be more than he and his family could afford. As a sophomore at Penn State, Alex began applying for scholarships so he could remain in school.

That’s when private support from donors came in to assist Alex and his family. He was able to stay at Penn State and earn his degree in accounting thanks to the Clarence Ritchie and Esther Welsh Wiedhahn Academic Excellence Scholarship; the Jeffrey and Ann Semmer Trustee Scholarship in The Smeal College of Business Administration; the John W. White General Scholarship; and the Pierce Family Trustee Scholarship in the Smeal College of Business to Honor Chuck Snow and Shirley Kovach.

Through this support, Alex graduated from Penn State in 2010 and joined a program at Ernst & Young to earn his master’s degree while working for the company. The investment of Alex’s donors made in him has paid off: He now works full-time as a client relationship manager for Ernst & Young, a place that gives him purpose and passion for his work and his clients.

“Penn State gave me the opportunity to get our American dream accomplished,” Alex said. “I truly believe that without the scholarships I received, I wouldn't be able to stand here today with these same opportunities. My parents know it wasn’t just them that made all of these things happen. I had great teachers, and Penn State’s donors provided a great education.”

One of those teachers was Gregory Pierce, senior lecturer in finance at Smeal College of Business. When Alex approached Pierce about problems his family’s sushi business was facing, Pierce encouraged Alex to present these real-life issues to his classmates. Together, in Pierce's Finance 301H class, Alex and his peers created a strategic business plan, exit strategy and pro forma financial forecast to help the business, Sushi Tokyo, get off the ground. Now, the company, with Alex as its client communications director, is serving thousands of schoolchildren each day with healthy sushi lunchboxes.

Pierce also made an investment in Alex’s future beyond the classroom. With his wife, Linda, he created the Pierce Family Trustee Scholarship to Honor Chuck Snow and Shirley Kovach, one of the scholarships Alex received.

“It’s important to have scholarship money available to outstanding students,” Pierce said. “We're investing in a young man like Alex who you know has 100 percent chance of success.”

Because of the opportunities he has received, Alex and his family want to pay it forward. They hope to grow their family business to a level where they can create their own scholarship at Penn State to help other students receive the same life-changing experiences Alex had.

“So far, this has been just an incredible dream come true,” Alex said. “This scholarship is the next step of the dream my family has been thinking about. That is what drives me each day because I believe it’s really important to give back.”

Donors’ generosity to For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students is helping countless students like Alex to accomplish their own educational goals. For the Future is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2014