Not one to ask for help, Dhruvi Patel came to the United States from Mumbai, India when she was just thirteen years old. She assumed that if she wanted to pursue her dream of going to college, she’d have to do it on her own. After connecting with an admissions counselor at Penn State Scranton, Patel realized that by accepting the support and resources presented to her by Penn State, a world of possibilities would be made available to her.
Druhvi Patel, Business Administration Major, Penn State Scranton, Class of 2022
One in four Penn State students is a first-generation student.
“People [at Penn State Scranton] saw my potential and assured me I’d do fine. That’s the great thing about this campus; they see your potential and encourage you to get outside your comfort zone.”
The Path to Penn State
When Dhruvi Patel and her family first arrived in the United States in March 2013, she was starting the eighth grade. Over the next several weeks and months, Patel tackled a lot of firsts: settling into her new home, experiencing snow for the first time, and navigating a completely different educational system than the one she had left behind in India.
“It was not an easy process,” said Patel. “I was in eighth grade, and they wanted me to pick classes for ninth grade, and I didn’t know how to do that. They just gave me what they could. It wasn’t until my junior year that I learned I had options.”
After graduating from Scranton High School, Patel began her first year of college at another local university but soon realized it was not a good fit. After visiting Penn State Scranton for an event celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights that takes place each year in late October/early November, she knew she wanted to transfer.
“Everyone was involved in the Diwali event, not just Indian students. I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I just clicked with Penn State. I wasn’t even a student here and I felt so welcomed and a part of the community already.”
“Everyone was involved in the Diwali event, not just Indian students,” said Patel. “I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I just clicked with Penn State. I wasn’t even a student here and I felt so welcomed and a part of the community already.”
Patel connected with Scranton campus admissions officer Julie Bialkowski, who not only helped her navigate the transfer process but with so much more.
“Asking for help was hard for me. I never did that in India,” said Patel, who credits Bialkowski with introducing her to a lot of what Penn State Scranton had to offer. “Julie was one of the first people on campus who helped me to come out of my shell. I knew I needed to be here, and she reassured me that my family would be proud of my decision to transfer.”
Patel admitted that through high school, she was very closed off from others, and asking for help was not something she was used to doing or comfortable with. Upon arriving at Penn State Scranton, Patel knew she wanted to open up and be more outgoing.
“When I went to college, I decided I didn’t want to be that shy person anymore and that I needed to get out of my shell,” said Patel. “I’d say I’m more outgoing now, a social butterfly. I wasn’t like this in high school because I was trying to figure out so much on my own.”
The community on the Scranton campus and the connections Patel has made have helped her navigate college life as a first-generation student and ensured she could achieve her goals. From obtaining an internship to becoming the Student Government Association treasurer to navigating the application process for law school, Patel is grateful for the support.
“I love the campus and the faculty,” said Patel. “They have pushed me to be better since day one and I wouldn’t be as confident as I am today if it wasn’t for them.”
Patel has also embraced the openness of the classroom setting and was pleasantly surprised to be encouraged to share her thoughts by speaking up in class. In a public speaking class, she recalls an interviewing exercise the students had to complete.
“I love the campus and the faculty. They have pushed me to be better since day one and I wouldn’t be as confident as I am today if it wasn’t for them.”
“We had to interview one another and record it,” said Patel. “I saw my body language when I watched my video and that taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. It was interesting to look at myself, but I learned so much.”
Because of the support from faculty and staff, as well as her peers, Patel has now embraced being in the position to help others walking a similar path to hers. During her Penn State career, she has been a peer mentor, a leader at New Student Orientation, and a Lion Ambassador.
“When I used to give tours as a Lion Ambassador, I realized I loved telling my story about Penn State and introducing the University to potential students,” said Patel. “I get so excited when people ask me about Penn State.”
She has even begun to motivate her younger brother, who also plans to attend college to pursue a career in finance. Patel hopes he will consider following in her footsteps and attend Penn State Scranton.
A New Chapter
Patel is now preparing to take the LSATs and apply to law school. While she was originally inspired to pursue criminal law after a family tragedy, her fluency in four languages has her leaning toward immigration law where she feels she can have a positive impact.
“Penn State is a community where someone is always there for you if you overcome your fear and reach out.”
Eight years ago, Patel’s family moved to the United States in hopes of securing better jobs and access to a better education for her and her brother. When asked what her parents think of all that she’s achieved so far, Patel said, “Unlike some parents, they’ve never put pressure on me to do a specific thing. They have encouraged me to do what I want, but just to make something out of my life. When I told them about this story, they told me they were really proud of what I am doing and how far I’ve come.”
Patel’s advice for other first-generation students? Despite fear and difficulty, it will be worth it in the end.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for advice or help,” said Patel. “Penn State is all about helping one another. I know this because I have been there and have helped others. Penn State is a community where someone is always there for you if you overcome your fear and reach out.”
Located on forty-five acres outside of Scranton and within a few hours of New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., Penn State Scranton provides innovative instruction to help all students achieve their potential. Through relationships with civic and business leaders, the campus is uniquely positioned to provide educational solutions that are closely aligned with the local and regional workforce and economic development needs.
The Penn State community is imagining, collaborating, and inventing our way to a better world.