Choosing to pursue a Penn State degree was just the latest step in Danielle Dormer’s road to recovery. A Pennsylvanian without a GED and struggling with addiction, she turned to the U.S. Army, which saw her through two children, two marriages, and two stress fractures that removed her from active duty. Those experiences led her to Penn State.

Fresh out of recovery, she pursued her dream of a college education—and Penn State’s unique education model allowed her the opportunity to attend where, when, and how she wanted. As a support group for students recovering from addiction, Penn State Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) helped Dormer feel connected to the University, and within a year she grew from a member, to a volunteer, to a mentor for the Office of Veterans Programs.

Portrait of Danielle Dormer

Danielle Dormer, U.S. Army veteran, Penn State Class of 2017 and Penn State graduate student


Because those who want to learn should have a way.

“Everyone experiences bumps in the road, 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.”

Creating a Path Toward Education

Growing up in Delaware County, Dormer 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 seventeen, 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, Dormer 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.

Beyond citing Penn State’s network of campuses and online learning through World Campus, Dormer credits resources such as the Office of Veterans Affairs and the Collegiate Recovery Community for helping her 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.

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

test Four hands raised in the air with trees out of focus in the background

“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 Dormer. “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.”

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

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

A Life of Service

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.

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

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

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

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Penn State World Campus provides an accessible, quality Penn State education online to address the needs of individuals who seek a higher education beyond the traditional campus experience. Partnering with Penn State’s academic units and colleges allows Penn State World Campus to offer more than 150 degree and certificate programs developed and taught by Penn State faculty.

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Penn State College of Education prepares students for careers by offering world-class undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs for students interested in teacher preparation, administrator preparation, and other education-focused pursuits. Research initiatives within the college focus on understanding and advancing topics in education such as: distance education, the impact of educational disparities and education policies, leadership and ethics, literacy, technical education, and workforce development.

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