First-generation student finds opportunities and support at Penn State

Nina Trach
October 22, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Starting college can be daunting for a first-generation student — and that’s especially true for someone whose parents are unfamiliar with American universities.

In just a few weeks, however, first-year Penn State student Olivia Piechocinski already feels at home in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and on the University Park campus.

A native of New York City, born to Polish parents, Piechocinski was originally unsure if she even wanted to leave her home state for college.

“I wanted to go out of the city but I never thought I would actually leave the state and go to the middle of Pennsylvania, so that was a shock for me,” Piechocinski said. “When it came around to decision time, it just felt like Penn State held so many opportunities for me.”

After watching the popular high school football TV series “Friday Night Lights,” Piechocinski said she was inspired to search for schools with a vibrant and spirited sports culture like the one on the show. That eventually led her to Penn State.

When she learned more about the Bellisario College, she realized Penn State was the perfect choice for her — beyond the Saturday night lights in Beaver Stadium.

With a passion for people and writing, Piechocinski was looking for a career path that would allow her to interact with others and express herself creatively. The advertising and public relations major said she can pinpoint the exact experience that led her to pursue a communications degree.

In her creative expression class at Townsend Harris High School, Piechocinski’s teacher required that each student submit work to their high school literary magazine. Although she originally submitted her work solely out of obligation, the editor soon reached out and encouraged Piechocinski to take a position as a literary editor for the magazine.

“Things kind of just fell into place for me,” Piechocinski said.

Her experience guiding the magazine’s writing group through the writing process was eye-opening, setting Piechocinski on her current advertising track to combine interests in writing, humanities and communications.

Since arriving atPenn State, Piechocinski has already gotten involved with the AD/PR Club, CommRadio, the Student Programming Association, and the Colombian American Student Association. Coming from a diverse neighborhood on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, Piechocinski said she was looking to interact with a wide variety of peers from all different backgrounds through her extracurricular involvement.

As for student life as a first-generation college student, Piechocinski said she thought she would be in shock from the transition. Instead, she has made herself at home by taking advantage of free concerts on campus and getting to know her classmates.

“Even though a lot of kids aren’t first generation, we’re all going through similar experiences,”  Piechocinski said. “I thought I would feel more left out being a first-generation college student, but everyone has been super helpful.”

Piechocinski is a 2018 recipient of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications Scholarship and Student Support Endowment, a gift that she said greatly helped to ease the financial burden on her family.

Anticipating what will come out of her time at Penn State and in the Bellisario College, Piechocinski is excited by the opportunities and environment that surround her. Instead of the stereotypical homesick phone call to parents, Piechocinski said her calls home have been to reassure her parents that she is certain she made the right choice to come to Penn State.

Last Updated October 22, 2018