First-gen Abington student graduates early with top grades while working 3 jobs

Abington RHS major

New Penn State Abington alumna Jessica Luna-Tlacopilco treated herself to a trip to Europe this summer after completing her degree a year early.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — A first-generation Penn State Abington student is graduating this week — a full year early with a 3.7 GPA despite an exhausting daily commute from South Philadelphia and working three jobs.  

Jessica Luna-Tlacopilco earned her degree in rehabilitation and human services (RHS) with a minor in psychology and a chemical dependency and counseling certificate

“As a first-generation student, this was all new to me so I figured I would take six classes at a time so I could finish sooner. My schedule was packed with classes and work, but I managed it. I worked at my uncle’s pizzeria and as a peer counselor in Counseling and Psychological Services on campus, and I got hired by my internship,” she said. 

Luna-Tlacopilco, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, completed her required internship at the Center City Jewish Preschool, which then hired her on a full-time basis when she finished her coursework in August. 

“A lot of kids have special needs so it’s the perfect job for me since I want to become an occupational therapist,” she said. 

Luna-Tlacopilco knew before arriving at Abington that she wanted a career where she could help people and work with children.  

"With the RHS degree, I can eventually become an occupational therapist. I remember taking the first class about people with disabilities and ways to help them, and I fell in love with it. I could help people with this degree, and that’s all that mattered to me,” she said. 

“RHS is an amazing major full of opportunities. If you know you want to help people, this major is for you. Reach out to professors because you never know what they can offer. It is a great opportunity for networking,” Luna-Tlacopilco said. 

I could help people with this degree, and that’s all that mattered to me

—Jessica Luna-Tlacopilco , Summer/Fall 2022 graduate

Luna-Tlacopilco is the first person to complete the chemical dependency and counseling certificate since it came under Abington’s management earlier this year. She discovered the option to earn the certificate through Michael Lavetsky, the RHS program chair,  

“I wanted to know more about substance use disorder and how to help, what are its causes, and how do people end up in this situation. I took the first course and loved it, especially the case studies,” she said. 

Luna-Tlacopilco said she was aware of the negative impact of addiction since she has been exposed to it in her community. 

"I’ve always wanted to know how to help people and why they can’t stop. Once I learned that they are often coping with financial issues, depression, anxiety, and a variety of problems, I understood it,” she said. 

The chemical dependency certificate can be earned by RHS majors without taking additional coursework, and it is open to students in any major at any Penn State campus. The certificate is also available to individuals without bachelor's degrees through Abington's Office of Continuing Education

The certificate plus a bachelor's degree meets the educational requirements for individuals to be eligible to become a Pennsylvania Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. They also need to complete a state certification exam and required hours working in the field to obtain the certification. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 24 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.