After overcoming addiction, student finds purpose through Penn State

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Megan Martin first started her journey at Penn State 10 years ago at the University Park campus. She had recently graduated from State College Area High School and was planning to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, like so many of her peers.

But she only stayed for three semesters before failing academically.

At the time, Martin was at the peak of her struggle with an addiction disorder. Shortly after leaving Penn State, she had a son. She also took steps toward sobriety. Though settled into her new life as a single working mother, she knew someday the time would be right to pursue her degree.

When that time came, she reached back out to Penn State, knowing that a traditional, on-campus program would not be an option for her. Martin learned on Christmas Day 2015 that she had been accepted on a provisional status, requiring that she maintain a certain academic standing.

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Megan Martin, a Penn State World Campus student who earned her degree after overcoming an addiction disorder, received the 2019 Corneal Award for Outstanding Student Achievement.

IMAGE: Terry Cummins, Penn State World Campus

Martin recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies (HDFS) that she pursued online through Penn State World Campus.

As is the case for many who complete their education online, Martin’s path to success was not simple or traditional. When she started her studies online, Martin’s son was 4 years old and she held a full-time job. Through Penn State World Campus, she was able to pursue her education at a pace that was convenient and flexible enough for her busy life.

“I was really determined to pursue my degree, but I honestly don’t think I would have been able to go to college if it wasn’t online,” Martin said. “Penn State World Campus opened that door for me.”

“Four and a half years ago, I was sitting in jail. But I still wanted an education. If you want it, you can get it.”

— Megan Martin, student in Penn State’s World Campus 

Martin fully committed to the program and worked hard to take advantage of the resources it offered. She liked the unique assignments that professors created, like video projects and group chats, to make the material feel more accessible.

“I really liked the chats. I met people from all over the world and it was cool because they were like me,” Martin said. “Many had kids and were working full time, and it never felt like I was taking this weird, isolated online class.”

Martin was still living locally while pursuing her degree through World Campus, and she founded a State College chapter of Young People In Recovery, a national organization that works to create recovery-ready communities for adolescents.

Through networking with others in the organization, she learned about recovery high schools and alternative peer groups (APGs), alternatives to traditional step programs for recovering young people. The model is growing in popularity, especially in Texas, where last year she moved her family and now has a job at Teen and Family Services in Houston as a recovery coach, all while earning her degree.

“People started to realize that traditional models don’t work for adolescents, so we empower them and their peers to facilitate change in themselves,” said Martin, who is currently completing her capstone HDFS internship with the same organization. “A lot of people at 16 don’t want to get sober—I didn’t—so we work to make it a social and fun process.”

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Megan Martin works as a recovery coach at Teen and Family Services in Houston, Texas, where she also completed her capstone HDFS internship.

IMAGE: Terry Cummins, Penn State World Campus

Martin plans to stay in Houston with Teen and Family Services and continue to learn more about the program planning and administrative aspects of the organization. She also has more academic goals—attending the University of Houston to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

Martin is proud of her determination in completing her degree online, and when she heard of the Corneal Award for Outstanding Student Achievement in HDFS, she knew she wanted it.

The award, which is a highly coveted recognition for HDFS students, is given each year to a student who has demonstrated academic excellence, the successful navigation of a hardship, and sustained community service, all in memory of Sherry Corneal, a long-standing and valued member of the HDFS faculty.

“It was the only award I ever applied for and I wanted it so badly,” Martin said. “At one point in time, those qualifications—excelling academically and overcoming a hardship—just didn’t feel like they were in the cards for me.”

On the night that she was writing her application for the award, her brother, who still struggles with addiction, overdosed. He survived but was in the intensive care unit for three weeks.

“That experience was such a stark display of what addiction could have done to me, and I am so grateful I was able to get out of that,” said Martin. “Education gave me my purpose to carry on. I knew I wanted to go to school and I didn’t want to mess that up.”

“And then I got the award. To know that I put my full effort into this, to excel the way I did and be recognized with this award even as a World Campus student, is super validating. For that, I am so grateful.”

“If there is anyone out there who is thinking about World Campus or an online education but thinks they can’t do it or they’re too busy, I want to charge them to continue to pursue that. The intrinsic value and reward feel amazing,” she said. “Four and a half years ago, I was sitting in jail. But I still wanted an education. If you want it, you can get it.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you are encouraged to get help. Penn State offers a number of free and confidential resources, including counseling services, intervention, and addiction recovery support. Learn more about these resources for University Park and World Campus students. In a life-threatening situation, always call 911 or University Police immediately.



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