“Penn and my mom are my two loves in life,” says Allison Jegla, C’16, recipient of the Caplan Family Endowed Scholarship and participant in the Annenberg Scholars Program.
Ultimately, it’s easy to see why. Both have pushed Allison further than she’d ever thought possible.
After watching Brain Power, a 60 Minutes segment on Scott Mackler, MD, PhD, a longtime Penn Medicine professor who continued his research throughout his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Allison was inspired to not only consider Penn as a university, but also to revise her plan to become an aerospace engineer.
“I stood up that day after watching that show and just knew I had to be a doctor,” says Allison.
Watch the Brain Power segment.
She also knew she had to not only meet Mackler, but visit Penn. “Penn was so amazing for him," Allison says. "In the segment, he mentioned that Penn continued to support him in his research.” Allison was so inspired by Mackler's story, she traveled to nearby University of Michigan―where the professor was presenting―to meet him, and penned Mackler’s story for an essay that earned her a Joyce Ivy Foundation scholarship that helped her attend a summer program on neuroscience at Brown. On her way to the program, she stopped at Penn. “The second I set foot on campus, it was like a magnetism,” says Allison. “Standing on Locust Walk, I said, ‘Mom, this is it, we can stop looking. This is my home, this is where I was meant to be.’”
A first-generation college student, Allison is the only student in her high school’s 50-year history to attend an Ivy League school. But the choice to apply early decision was not an easy one for Allison and her family.
“I knew I wanted to go to Penn more than anything else,” says Allison, "but my mom was hesitant to sign the waiver” that would indicate Allison would attend if she were accepted early decision because of financial concerns. Allison’s father died her junior year of high school, and her mother took on two part-time jobs to pay the family’s basic expenses. Allison didn’t want to add to her mother’s financial strain. “To not have to graduate with debt, to not have to make my mom go in debt―it’s huge,” says Allison.
Allison says her dream of attending Penn even helped her through the pain of her father’s death. After a car accident, Allison’s dad was in a coma for 12 days. “It was a huge, terrible thing,” says Allison. “But through that time, I just threw myself into school and making sure I did everything I could to get to Penn.”
Her father’s death has influenced everything, even Allison’s chosen profession. “Ultimately, I’d love to be a trauma surgeon and work in South America,” she says. Allison became close with her father’s trauma surgeon, even shadowing him on the job. “He’s at a great point in his career, but he chooses to mentor me―I think that speaks to both the profession and the people that choose to pursue it.”
"We chose Penn because we wanted to be challenged. You become a stronger, better, faster person after all of this."
―Allison Jegla, C'16
“Penn has caused me to consider other things, too,” says Allison. After falling in love with a healthcare management class, Allison joined the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club and is now on the executive board and chairing a conference taking place next semester. And Allison’s Penn experiences have also resulted in a love of Spanish, although it was not love at first sight. “It was difficult,” says Allison. “My mom convinced me to stick with it, and I ended up falling head over heels in love with the language, the culture, everything. Experiences like that have pushed me so far outside my comfort zone, but that really makes you grow and see what you love. Penn has really shown me that you can’t plan every little second of your life. You need to let things happen and meet people and have experiences and let them shape you.
“Being here has changed everything for me. Opportunities I never could have imagined have fallen into my lap.”
Her mother has never been more proud. “It’s hard, being apart,” says Allison, “but it makes her proud that I’m pursuing my dreams and making this happen.
“The work is hard, but that’s why we chose this. We chose Penn because we wanted to be challenged. You become a stronger, better, faster person after all of this. Every day I find something else I love about Penn. It’s a love affair that deepens every day.”
Read more stories like Allison's on Penn's Undergraduate Named Scholarships website.