Forman Scholar Mya Avant Channels Her Skills to Make a Difference in the Community

Mya Avant never had a problem finding a passion. In fact, she was lucky enough to find three.

This triple passion presented her with a unique challenge of finding a university that would enable her to pursue three separate paths. And because of her incredible hard work and dedication to her studies, when she graduated this past August from Pennsylvania State University, she walked with not one, but three Bachelor’s degrees in hand.

On top of earning degrees in sociology, criminology and African American studies, Mya did something else that even the hardest working students don’t usually accomplish. Mya completed all of her degrees and graduated in just three years instead of the traditional four-year trajectory.

“Since I felt like setting the goal to accomplish three degrees in three years wasn’t going to overwhelm me, I decided to move forward and go for it,” Mya said. “My current classes were going really well so I believed I was still going to earn good grades in additional classes for my other majors. It’s just what made sense to me.”

When Mya first started out, she only had two majors she wanted to pursue – sociology and criminology. After studying different groups of people and communities it spurred her to think broader and make plans to go for a third major in African American studies.

“I was observing how the different things I was learning about tied back to my community and the ways in which these two topics tied into the African American experience,” she said. “I was originally only going to do a minor in African American studies but I ended up taking so many classes in that discipline that I was able to major in it. It just felt like the right thing to do.”

Although her packed academic schedule may already seem like it keeps her busy enough, Mya couldn’t help but seek out student organizations and on-campus jobs to help expose her to more experiences related to her majors. This curiosity lead Mya to find a job at Penn State’s Criminal Justice Center as a research assistant.

“The curriculum in my classes really helped me because I was already doing research and conducting interviews regarding prison inmate reentry,” Mya said. “We especially focused on how social networks affect whether an inmate will go back to prison or not, how many times they might go back, and how social ties can help them improve their quality of life after prison. I found it really interesting and I kept wanting to learn more.”

Beyond her classes and extracurriculars, Mya also loved the rural landscape that a Penn State experience provided. Despite Penn State’s main campus having a reputation for its enormous grounds and huge student population, Mya quickly carved out her niche and felt at home at the university where she discovered the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. At the Center, Mya found out about the Black Student Union and eventually made her way up the ranks to become vice president. She says she loved getting involved in campus issues and having a platform to host discussions, hear students’ opinions, and spearheading the organization’s on-campus events.

After accomplishing so much during her time in college, Mya says she feels like she has the world at her fingertips with the number of avenues she could take into her professional career. For now, Mya is a substitute teacher in the hopes to later attend graduate school for mental health counseling. From there, she imagines herself becoming a school psychologist or a counselor for young people in at-risk neighborhoods. One day far down the road she even dreams of opening her own psychology practice.

Mya owes her tremendous accomplishments to her steadfast grit and determination. As for what she recommends to other students going through their own college experience, she speaks of the importance of being fearless and getting involved.

“Don’t be afraid to change your plans, because something amazing might be in store for you that you weren’t expecting,” Mya said. “Also, get as involved as you can in college and try a bunch of different things, because getting involved will help you decide what you want to do in the future.”

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