In a low-income area of Swissvale, a single mother struggled to provide for her family. With limited income, no vehicle and a refrigerator that had stopped working, the family got by as well as they could.

Without the ability to keep food cold, the family walked each day to a grocery store several miles away, bought the groceries that they would eat that day, and walked back home. They ate the food before it spoiled and repeated the process the next day. Some days, time, weather or limited daylight meant they bought their food at a neighborhood convenience store which had limited grocery items, but no fresh produce or meat.

That’s just one way that poverty impacted Jenna Joseph’s family. The molecular biology/biotechnology major said despite the financial circumstances that affected her family, her parents encouraged their five children to go to college.

“My parents told all of us the same two things: School, school, school; and regarding dating, put it off,” she said. “They said the best way to get out of poverty is through school.”

Her oldest brother, Jordan, was the first.

“He shot for the stars, and he made it. It was huge for our family,” Joseph said. “He’s getting his PhD in civic engineering at CMU.”

Inspired by her brother’s success, Joseph felt more confident as the time neared for her to start college.

“College was always the plan, always something I knew was important for me,” she said. Unlike her friends and classmates, Joseph couldn’t afford resources to prepare for the SAT and ACT exams, nor could she afford to tour multiple colleges. Still, she was accepted for admission to her top two choices, ultimately choosing Clarion.

Joseph has worked hard to meet the demands of her academically challenging majors. Fall of 2020 was particularly difficult for her. In the midst of the pandemic, she was living at home, taking classes remotely and working 20-30 hours a week.

“All the money I was earning was put back into the household. There was a lot of pressure to keep working. Not that anyone was telling me to, but I recognized the need and wanted to help my mom,” she said.“I got behind in calculus and organic chemistry, and I failed calculus. It was a valuable lesson that you’ll fail if you spread yourself too thin.

After graduating this May, Joseph is looking forward to the next step in achieving her dream of becoming a physician’s assistant. She will begin graduate school at Case Western Reserve in mid-May.

Just as her brother inspired her, Joseph now encourages her younger siblings to elevate themselves from poverty through education.

“All I can do is show them that one day you’ll have a job, a house that’s not falling apart, and you’ll live in a part of town where there are no gunshots, anger, poverty or drugs.”