Paying it Forward

Penn State helps make a dream a reality for a first-generation American and college student.

Jorge Zurita-Coronado has a difficult time describing the way he felt the moment he stepped foot onto Penn State’s campus. It marked the beginning of a future that no one in his family had experienced. As a first-generation college student and first-generation American, Zurita-Coronado’s parents had instilled in him the value of an education, but equally, if not more important, was providing for the family. His parents worked several jobs in order to afford their oldest son the chance at a college education. Now completing a bachelor’s in political science at Penn State, Zurita-Coronado has plans to pay that forward. By advocating on behalf of families like his own, he hopes to create pathways to education.  

“Penn State has given a lot to me,” says Zurita-Coronado. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world we live in. I’ve learned how important it is to actually care, and how even the smallest act can make Pennsylvania, and even our country, a better place.”

Jorge standing in front of the university seal

His interest in government and political science was initially sparked by a high school course in modern civics. This interest has been reaffirmed in Zurita-Coronado’s time at Penn State. He has taken advantage of the many opportunities to get involved on campus, taking active roles in service organizations like the University Park Undergraduate Association, Lion Ambassadors, and serving as president of the Penn State Latino Caucus. He has also participated in Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. His experiences in these student organizations have helped in clarifying what he wants the future to look like.

“I don’t think I ever see myself just working for me,” says Zurita-Coronado. “I like knowing what I’m doing is positive for the world, and it doesn’t have to be big. If I’m making a difference, even in my own community, I believe that’s a life well lived.”

Coming to Penn State would not have been a reality had it not been for the hard work and determination of his parents. Their experience is not one that Zurita-Coronado takes for granted.

"Penn State has given a lot to me. I’ve learned how important it is to actually care, and how even the smallest act can make Pennsylvania, and even our country, a better place."

According to Zurita-Coronado, his parents were only educated up until fifth grade. After coming to the United States, they moved where they could get jobs, and he recalls the small apartment where he grew up in his hometown of Ogden, Utah. When his parents decided to move to Pennsylvania, based on job opportunities that arose, they packed all their belongings up in a tiny pickup to move cross-country.

“I have never shied away from telling my story,” he says. “I think people need to hear it. We hear a lot about issues that people face on a day-to-day basis on the national stage and even here at Penn State, but it often gets dehumanized. And that’s when it becomes a concern; when people forget that there are actual human beings behind an issue, that it’s not just talking point.”

Zurita-Coronado hopes that his story will help put a face to an experience that he believes is not all that uncommon in the United States.

“There are many families who are no different than my own,” says Zurita-Coronado. “We’re not unique in that there are many families who don’t see college as an opportunity, where parents are having to work two jobs to survive or have a chance at that.”

By advocating on behalf of families like his own, he hopes to create pathways to education.

Zurita-Coronado has plans to attend law school or a graduate program in higher education. Ultimately, he sees himself back on a college campus—perhaps Penn State. Although the future remains uncertain, Zurita-Coronado has never questioned his college choice. Visiting colleges and universities across the state—big and small, urban and rural—when he visited University Park, he finally felt part of a college community.

“My mom often jokes with me saying, ‘you always talk about Penn State,’” says Zurita-Coronado, “but she knows I really love it here. Others will ask why I chose it. I’ve heard this said before and can definitely attest to it, but there’s just something in the air here that drew me in. It’s hard to put into words until you actually come visit, but I’ve never seen myself being anywhere but here.”