Perseverance and service to others moved two Penn State adult learners through several life obstacles toward their goals to achieve a bright future for not only themselves, but for those in their care. Divine Lipscomb and Prince Koomson both faced adversity with grit and it placed both of them at the top of their class, Lipscomb as the 2020 Outstanding Adult Student Award recipient and Koomson as the runner-up.
Lipscomb is majoring in rehabilitation and human services and works on campus as a special projects coordinator for the Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) in the College of Education at Penn State, where he creates dialogue around the intersection of race, institutional barriers and trauma associated with incarceration. He is the founder of a nonprofit that uses mentorship and support groups to aid reentry into life after incarceration. Lipscomb channels his own personal experience to achieve this, as a husband and father of six kids — he is also in long-term recovery and was formerly incarcerated. He has overcome financial hardships, family disruption and homelessness.
“It is easy to look at people who share in some of my identities and wonder what can set them on this path of destruction. The truth is, people can only operate from the framework they have access to,” Lipscomb said. “Failing schools with teachers that believe they are there to help you are often perpetuating gross injustices because they are not culturally competent, or suffer from a savior’s complex. Overpoliced neighborhoods, limited access to quality food and healthcare. Wash, rinse, repeat. From schools to prisons, there is always someone telling you how to live and few people listening to voices of those living within substandard circumstances.”
Lipscomb said he has spent the past 17 years going from self-destruction to achievement through goal setting.
“My Substance Use Disorder (SUD) granted me the permission to commit some of the worst atrocities a person can commit against their family, friends and community. I attribute the birth of my son in helping me to leave a life of gang activity and credit my wife for setting me on the path to the six years I’ve been clean. I am aware of how easy comfortability can trigger a relapse,” Lipscomb said. “As a person in long-term recovery, I find it important to stay vigilant in my journey of sobriety. The catalyst that set me on the path to be here today was in place before I was aware of what or who I was. I just needed to stop drinking long enough to see what life had to offer.”
Lipscomb hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“I really enjoy working with the Students Restorative Justice Initiative (sRJI). Where RJI is programming, sRJI is advocacy and awareness,” Lipscomb said. “We create and implement events around campus, such as our ‘Restorative Circles’ that create a pathway for students to get trained in restorative practices and our reentry simulation where students, faculty and staff simulate what a month after incarceration would look like.”
NROTC Battalion Sergeant Major Prince Koomson will earn his bachelor of science in mathematics at Penn State this summer. He was born in Ghana, West Africa, and came to the United States in 2012 with his two siblings. Koomson is in active duty in the U.S. Navy with seven years of service, including two combat deployments onboard the USS George H.W. Bush. He enrolled at Penn State after being selected to be trained as a pilot in the Seaman to Admiral - 21 (STA-21) program. To be eligible, he needed to complete his bachelor’s degree.
“I have the passion to teach and impart my peers and superiors alike while learning more from them. I tutor my fellow midshipman and classmates who seek assistance with math- and physics-related subjects,” Koomson said. “Seeing my peers have their light-bulb moments in intimidating courses gives me the satisfaction that they can also teach others. It is for this reason I would like to teach mathematics when I retire from active duty.”
Leslie Laing, director for Adult Learner Programs and Services and student advocacy specialist in the Division of Student Affairs at Penn State, said both nominees display uniqueness and diversity in their leadership and achievements.
“Divine is an advocate and an excellent example of how a person can use his life experience to not only propel his own success, but the success of others. He embodies empathy, ethical conduct and is a dedicated learner and emerging scholar,” Laing said. “And for Prince, after the loss of his father following a prolonged illness, he found himself supporting his siblings and serving as a role model to fellow midshipmen by arranging study sessions and tutoring others while striving to stay on the Dean’s list. He maintains laser-like focus, a positive mental attitude, and is an exemplary student who was selected 1 out of 50 to attend flight school.”
The Outstanding Adult Student Award includes a Penn State diploma case and a $500 grant from the Adult Learner Opportunity Fund. Laing established the fund in 2008 to aid non-traditional aged students and veterans who are struggling with financial and family responsibilities while earning their first-time undergraduate degree.
To contribute, visit the Adult Learner Opportunity Fund.