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First-Gen Student Uses COM Skills to Inspire Others’ Educational Journeys

Brandon Medina, Drexel Communication student

May 03, 2019

It all started with a twist of fate.

As a high school freshman, Brandon Medina had life after graduation planned out: he would stay in his hometown of Philadelphia and join his father’s taxi business. When the family business closed, he began a journey that would ultimately change his mindset, leading him to the Communication major at Drexel and illuminating his passion for educating others.

“I attended one of the lowest performing public high schools in the city,” Medina says. “There was no college-going mindset there. There were massive budget cuts, nurses who were fired, not enough books to go around — the amount of resources was greatly diminished.”

A chance hallway encounter with a recruiter from Philadelphia Futures opened his eyes to new possibilities. The nonprofit organization provides low-income high school students with college-readiness programming — from scholarship and internship opportunities to after-school enrichment courses.

Though it had seemed almost too good to be true, Medina was soon accepted into the program and excelling. He took college essay-writing courses, joined a robotics team and even completed a digital storytelling internship at Drexel, which offered him a glimpse into life as a college student.

“As part of the internship, we learned how to record media, use recording software, and effectively present personal and community stories. Expressing myself in an audio-based project helped me realize that there are nontraditional forms of learning. It excited me about coming to college,” he says.

Graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Medina turned his attention to the next step in his educational journey. He enrolled as a Communication major at Drexel, where he was admitted with a full scholarship through the Liberty Scholars program.

“I kind of always knew that Drexel was the school I wanted to attend,” he says. “Co-op was the deciding factor. I knew that having real-world work experience would allow me to dip into different skillsets and give me that much more of an edge when I graduated.”

Medina had a record of success and substantial college preparation; still, as a first-generation student, the transition to college was daunting.

“I had performed well in high school, but there was still that blooming doubt that I would be out of my league. Looking back, I can see that that’s a fallacy,” he says. “My classmates in my first year had experiences that, coming from a disadvantaged background, I hadn’t. I learned to recognize their experiences and what they have to offer — but also the importance of coming into my own and proving to myself that my experiences are just as valuable.”

Medina gained confidence and a close-knit community in the communication department, where he enjoyed classes that were small and full of passionate discussion. He tapped into his media and production skills as host of the WKDU-FM radio program “Good Morning, Neighbors,” conducting on-air interviews with local nonprofits.

He also sought out opportunities to become a resource for others: serving as a peer academic coach, mentoring high schools students as a Lindy Scholars Adviser, and assisting students with the transition to college through the Dragon Scholars Program. For one of his co-ops, he worked as a recruitment assistant with Philadelphia Futures — positioning himself as the very resource that put him on the path to higher education.

It wasn’t until his third co-op — teaching English in eastern China for six months — that Medina found what he describes as “his calling.”

“I had some amazing teachers in high school, but the mentality toward education turned me off to the idea of teaching. When I went to China and saw the engagement of students who genuinely wanted to learn, I could see the impact that I was making, and it opened my eyes to the possibility. I now have a great desire to teach.”

The international experience was so moving to Medina that it inspired his senior project. He created a podcast, “The Allure of Going Abroad,” featuring interviews with Drexel students about their abroad experiences and raising awareness of international scholarship opportunities.

“If it wasn’t for my international co-op, I wouldn’t have such a focus on what I want to do moving forward,” he says. “When I talk to younger students, they don’t realize how many scholarships are available and go untaken every year because students don’t apply. Going abroad was a big expense, and for me, a scholarship was able to alleviate that burden.”

While his ultimate goal is to become a teacher, Medina’s passion for connecting students to resources has led him to also consider a career in higher education admissions. His goal is to provide students with the same support that helped him reach success — with a little help from fate, and a lot of determination.

“I want to do well for myself, but also for my family,” he says. “I’m second-generation Puerto-Rican American. There were a lot of cultural barriers that prevented my family from going to college. Now that I have this knowledge, my future generations will be better off.”