First-generation student finds opportunities and success at Penn State

With support at Penn State Abington, and a meeting of interests and passion, Michael Quinn is building a career foundation
A student smiling with arms crossed

Michael Quinn has made the most of his opportunities, beginning at Penn State Abington.

Credit: Kayla Marrero

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A first-generation college student at Penn State has found opportunities and success on campus despite the academic challenges he faced in high school.

Michael Quinn, a senior majoring in journalism with minors in English and sports studies, was not a strong student in high school, he said. He ended his senior year with a 2.71 GPA that was bolstered more by what he did in English than in math.

“I liked sports writing, but I did not think my grade would get me to a university,” said Quinn. He applied to only one school — Penn State Abington — and was not expecting good news.

Still, Quinn’s mother knew he had the ability to go to college because he had always been a hard worker.

Quinn showed persistence in many aspects of his life, even as a child, she said. And, when his parents pushed him to try choir, in part as a punishment, he thrived. Quinn enjoyed traveling to France, the Baltic States and Finland, and even performed on “Good Morning America” for a Christmas special.

“It was a remarkable change, and I knew he always had the strength and goals in him,” his mother, Kimberly Quinn, said.

He started proving that in college.

Quinn is the youngest of two siblings in his family and the second to pursue a college degree. He understood college was a major step in his journey, and it was necessary because he wanted to combine his passion for writing and sports and build a foundation for his career. He’s also pursuing a certificate from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State and hopes to focus on baseball as a sportswriter.

Quinn always felt pursuing a college degree was about more than just his success.

“I realized my parents did not graduate from college l and I wanted to show them that people in my family can do it,” Quinn said.

When Quinn started his first semester at Penn State Abington, he took 17 credits and performed well in his classes. He was gaining confidence. However, he had a rough transition when he moved to the University Park campus, he said.

At first, he had a hard time making friends because most of his friends went to Temple University or Penn State Abington, said Quinn, and he felt disconnected and lonely on the bigger campus. However, once he got into more classes, he had more success talking to people and making friends. “I doubt myself a lot, but at the end of the day I am doing the things to get good grades,” Quinn said.

Quinn said his favorite classes are the ones that are taught by Professor John Affleck, head of the Department of Journalism and director of the Curley Center. Quinn took COMM 476, a sports writing class, because it helped him sharpen his writing skills, he said. This semester, he is working with Affleck on an independent study about Cuba playing in the Little League World Series for the first time.

“John gives incredible advice and feedback that I’ll end up carrying with me for the rest of my career,” said Quinn, whose self-confidence has grown through the years; he consistently pushes to accomplish more.

Quinn’s family is also proud of his accomplishments and his transition from high school to college.

“My husband and I are proud of him because we never had the opportunity to go to finish college and we will always help provide for him financially,” Kimberly Quinn said.

In addition, Quinn has found ways to channel his passions. He’s involved with the Daily Collegian and works as an intern for while maintaining a 3.86 GPA. He will spend about four hours covering a game and writing a game update for the Collegian and spend six hours or more creating content for his internship, Quinn explained.

Between writing for both platforms, he spends a minimum of 10 hours per week writing. Plus, he said, he's doing well in classes. “That GPA jump shows I always had it in me, all I had to do was find something I truly cared about,” Quinn said.

While his post-graduation plans for May 2023 are not finalized, the motivation and success he’s found in college have helped him hone his skills and focus on what’s next — most likely a career in sports writing.

“Some people might say some classes or degrees are easier than others, but I think if you really care about your future and love what you are learning, you can succeed in any field,” he said.