Alumna's gift supports success of first generation college students at Abington

Tina Hennessy

Tina Hennessey, the senior assistant vice president for principal gifts in the Penn State Office of University Development, and her husband were the first in their families to attend college. They are supporting first generation students at Penn State Abington with the Hennessey Family Fund, which underwrites programming to keep the cohort on the path toward earning their degrees.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — When Tina Hennessey, who graduated in 1993 was applying to Penn State, she and her dad, a postal worker, spent hours contemplating the big questions and the small ones, too: How do we pay for college? And just as important, how do you choose your courses and make friends?

Hennessey, the senior assistant vice president for principal gifts in the Penn State Office of University Development, was a first-generation college student who started her Penn State career at the Abington campus, and she and her family were navigating an entirely new world. 

“When I reflect on it, my college experience was different from many other students because my family didn’t know how to maneuver through these processes. Our lack of understanding really impacted the decisions we were making,” she said. 

As they were unpacking their shared experiences as first-generation students and how to support them, Hennessey and her husband realized the best fit for them was to establish the Hennessey Family Fund at Penn State Abington, which underwrites programming that can keep this cohort of students on the path to earning their degrees. 

“In my current role at Penn State, I think about the lack of social capital to support first- generation students, and we know we need to support first generation students with intentionality. Specific programming is so important to help them acclimate, prepare them to be successful and create the community they need,” she said. 

Aneesah Smith, the director of the Penn State Abington Student of Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (SODEI), keeps Hennessey apprised of SODEI’s work with first-generation students, which includes a successful faculty and staff mentoring program. 

“The Hennessey Family Fund has been extremely helpful with our programming initiatives for first-generation students," Smith said. "These students especially crave community and connection. We support them through the I’m First initiative, trips to cultural events, and an annual celebration to highlight their successes and encourage them to reflect on how they overcame obstacles." 

For Hennessey, investing in first-generation students at Abington allows her to pay it forward. 

“Through the Hennessey Family Fund, we are connecting first-generation students to each other and resources and helping them have the full and transformative college experience. This is a way for me to have a broad impact, and I love what I see happening,” she said.  

Gifts like the Hennessey Family Fund advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients, and communities across the Commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting

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 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.