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Alumna creates award for students in need of helping hand

Carolyn Xu ('08)

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For Carolyn Xu, the support of friends made all the difference in helping her return to Penn State after a family tragedy, earning her degree and building a successful career. Now Xu, the founding partner of Media Fortitude Partners, hopes to provide that same support for future generations.

With a gift of $30,000, Xu has created the Carolyn Xu Scholarship in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. The scholarship will provide awards to students who need financial assistance to complete their education at Penn State.

“I lost my mother in my sophomore year, and things just kind of spiraled down,” explained Xu. “I knew an education was the key to everything, so I tried to come back that next semester. I wanted to push through, but my grades suffered horribly. When that happens, you don’t qualify for certain grants and scholarships. Things just kept piling up.”

Portrait of alumna Carolyn Xu

Xu eventually left Penn State, but thanks to the support of friends who co-signed for loans, she was able to return after an 18-month hiatus and earn her telecommunications degree in 2008.

Today, Xu leads an award-winning media buying agency with clients across the United States. She has executed general and political campaigns in more than 200 U.S. markets and helped develop media campaigns for General Motors, Warner Bros. Entertainment, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the New Jersey Department of Health’s anti-opioid campaign, and many others.

“I know, firsthand, that a good education provides life-changing opportunities for those hoping to escape poverty and improve their lives,” Xu said. “But the finances can become a burden. I graduated with over $100,000 in student debt and committed to pay it off in 10 years. I know that was a lofty goal. I got lucky.”

Xu promised herself that if she was ever in a position to give back, she would. “Having people who believed in me was invaluable,” Xu explained. “That’s the kind of support I hope to provide as well. Penn State was a lonely place for me, but people helped — having people who believed in me helped. I hope this gift makes that difference for others.”

Xu has also volunteered her time with the college, currently serving as a member of the Bellisario College’s Advancement Council.

“I got to know Carolyn during a trip to New York and was blown away by her story,” said Jose Lugaro, director of development for the Bellisario College. “Her resilience and generosity represent the best of Penn State, and we are thrilled to have her as one of the newest members of our Dean’s Advancement Council. Carolyn’s engagement will help our efforts to grow and expand the college’s base of support.”

The Carolyn Xu Scholarship will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.