Pairing Education with Recovery

Penn State helps a former high school dropout and recovering addict find her purpose in life.

Growing up in Delaware County, Danielle Joliet hardly considered going to college, and her affiliation with Penn State didn’t go much further than watching the occasional football game on television. By age 17, she became hooked on drugs and alcohol and eventually dropped out of high school. Penn State and a college education seemed unattainable.

Knowing she needed to make a change, Joliet joined the U.S. Army. Since then, she obtained her GED, became a mother and the first in her family to earn her college degree, completing her bachelor’s in Rehabilitation and Human Services from Penn State. She is now enrolled in the University’s clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling master’s program and serves as a mentor to other veterans.

Penn State's Collegiate Recovery Community is designed to create an environment of inclusion for students recovering from addiction.

“Every one experiences bumps in the road,” says Joliet, “but those bumps don’t have to determine your future. Penn State has a network set up to literally be in your backyard. The University has so many options that people just don’t consider.”

Beyond citing Penn State’s network of campuses and online learning through World Campus, Joliet credits resources such as the Office of Veterans Affairs and the Collegiate Recovery Community for helping her to make the transition from military life to Penn State graduate. Her primary take-away and the message she shares with others: the path to a degree isn’t always clear.

“These kids have been preached to by parents that if they don’t get straight A’s, they aren’t going to get scholarships,” says Joliet. “Their parents can’t afford tuition, so once you start making a C or D, have a little bit of trouble, you automatically let go of that idea [college]. And so, you go another path, and usually that’s drugs and alcohol. School isn’t making you feel good anymore, but drugs and alcohol make you feel good.”

Danielle stands next to the nittany lion shrine

Danielle Joliet is the recipient of the 2017 Penn State Outstanding Adult Learner Award and May 2017 graduate of the Penn State College of Education. Image: Penn State Outreach and Online Education

Penn State’s CRC is designed to create an environment of inclusion for students recovering from addiction. Joliet sees this program as playing a critical role in the continuation of care. Not only does the program address the issue of recovery, but also works with students to build educational goals and to shape a future void of drugs or alcohol.

“We have to pair education with recovery,” says Joliet. “The mission of recovery is no different than the mission of education. The pairing makes sense.”

Although she was fortunate to have her military background, and the experiences that it afforded her, other young adults may not realize that as an option. She sees her role as sharing her story with as many people as possible; to show them that there is a way.

"We have to pair education with recovery," says Joliet.

Joliet earned a 4.0 grade-point average and served as student marshal during May 2017 graduation ceremonies for the Penn State College of Education. She was chosen for the 2017 Outstanding Adult Learner Award, which according to Leslie Laing, assistant director of Adult Learner Programs and Services at Penn State, was awarded based on her resilience.  

“Danielle has overcome numerous obstacles, devised creative solutions and implemented sensible procedures to significantly improve the quality of support offered to the CRC and finds time to mentor female veterans as they transition to the university,” Laing said. “Her character, passion and commitment personifies what it means to be outstanding. Danielle has made serving others and impacting the community a way of life. She makes us Penn State proud.”

For Joliet, it all ties back to her passion and commitment to service.

“I still serve this country,” says Joliet. “It’s just that my role looks a little different now.”