From GEDs to Penn State degrees

Photos provided to Penn State World Campus

From Penn State World Campus
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Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber’s partnership with the Penn State World Campus allows employees of all Chamber members, their spouses and dependents a 5% discount off tuition through the Penn State World Campus, the online delivery unit of Penn State. For more information on this partnership and discount, please visit the special webpage for this partnership.  

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Serena Carlson and Kevin Doupe both dropped out of high school at 17. But last month, they graduated with degrees from Penn State.

“I had a very traumatic childhood,” said Carlson, 39, who lives near Seattle. “I never thought a university was in my future – ever.”

Carlson and Doupe both turned their lives around, and they shared their personal journeys with their fellow adult learners at a special event last month for Penn State World Campus graduates prior to commencement. More than 100 students and their families attended the World Campus Graduation Celebration.

Carlson said her father was an alcoholic, her parents divorced when she was a teenager and she left to live on her own. She was always a good student, but college wasn’t possible.

It wasn’t until 2014 that she changed her future. She got her GED and enrolled in a class at a local community college. An A- while juggling a full-time job and raising three children spurred her on to complete an associate’s degree. And with a strong GPA, she applied to Penn State for her bachelor’s degree.

In 2016, Carlson began her studies online in health policy and administration, determined to maximize her experience. She traveled to Costa Rica and Sweden to compare the countries’ health systems with the U.S. system, and she participated on a student panel at a conference for online instructors at the University Park campus.

“Never in a million years did I expect to be part of such a world-class university,” she said.

Eventually, Carlson would like to complete her doctorate.

Doupe also had a difficult childhood. He ran away from home at 15 and dropped out of school at 17. He married and divorced by his mid-20s, and he found himself as a single dad of two teenagers. However, the key to overcoming these challenges was to not let his past define him, he said, likening it to driving a car.

“You need to have a rear-view mirror because you need to know where you’ve been,” said Doupe, 42, who lives in Towanda, Pa. “But you can’t drive while looking in that direction. Life is happening in front of you, and that is more important than what’s behind you. It’s also the only thing you have some level of control over.”

Doupe has taken control: He will graduate with a master’s degree in human resources and employment relations and a 3.9 grade-point average. At work, he is a human resources manager for a national home-improvement chain.

He also was appointed to serve two years on the World Campus’ student advisory board, a group that advocates for students. He said the rewarding experience gave him the chance to visit University Park twice and offer feedback on behalf of his fellow students.

Doupe and Carlson, too, both returned to campus with their families for graduation, for good reason.

“Nothing makes me prouder than knowing that my kids are proud of me,” Carlson said.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about learning online.