Vanessa and Lexi Johns

Sister Scholars / Schuylkill Students

Vanessa Johns, salutatorian of her high school graduating class, and her sister Lexi, valedictorian at the same high school three years later, have conquered high school. Now college students, they’re continuing their legacy of academic excellence at Penn State Schuylkill.

By: Samantha L. Bower

They were born and raised in north-central Pennsylvania. Surrounded by wooded hills and not far from the Schuylkill River headwaters, Vanessa Johns and her sister Lexi are fully acquainted with what it means to be “rural.”

The sisters attended Williams Valley Junior/Senior High School, an institution educating roughly 400 students located in western Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. There, Vanessa graduated as 2015 class salutatorian and Lexi graduated as 2018 class valedictorian. After graduating with highest academic honors, the sisters looked to college, and both chose to attend Penn State Schuylkill.

Growing up, the Johns sisters had wildly different career goals. When Vanessa was small, she wanted to become a teacher. In contrast, Lexi recalls her passion for sweets, saying “I used to tell my teachers that I wanted to work at Dairy Queen because I loved ice cream so much!”

But as the pair grew, so did their ambitions, education, and, of course, their thoughts about their careers. Vanessa’s career evolution began with the desire to teach. Then, “when I graduated high school, I thought I might do something in the engineering profession, like my father,” she says. “My interests have changed a lot since I came to Penn State Schuylkill.”

Now Vanessa has found her niche in Schuylkill’s business program, aspiring to enrich her community while establishing her career. Throughout her interview, the elder sister explained that she hopes to work in a business management and marketing capacity, and highlighted that she endeavors to, “assist [her] company and benefit the community, as well.” Wherever her degree takes her, Vanessa is confident she will possess the skillset she needs to confront any challenge.

A heavily-engaged student, Vanessa is the treasurer of the campus’s Business Society club; a member of the Blue & White Society, which is similar to the Penn State Alumni Society but is geared towards current students; a peer tutor in the Academic Resource Center; and also participates in Schuylkill Benefitting THON fundraisers, helping combat pediatric cancer through the Four Diamonds Fund. Additionally, Vanessa has successfully completed an immersive internship in Schuylkill’s Office of Strategic Communications. She explains that this engagement has inspired her to undertake more experiential learning opportunities.

For Vanessa, Penn State Schuylkill is a perfect fit to help her accomplish her goals. She credits the campus with encouraging her to reach for excellence and give back. “I enjoy a good challenge,” she says, citing the rigorous business curricula she has mastered. She followed up on that thought by describing all of the educators and peers she has come to appreciate. “I love getting to know the people here. Penn State Schuylkill is not just close to home; it has become my second home.”

Like her sister, Lexi’s career path has also developed to encompass service initiatives. While Vanessa daydreamed about teaching throughout grade school, Lexi imagined herself as a veterinarian. But her time in high school transformed her career goals from an animal-based profession to a medical one. “Tossing around a few ideas of being a physical therapist, doctor, or a biomedical engineer, I couldn’t make a decision on what exactly I wanted to be,” she said. “But I knew that at the end of the day, I wanted to help others,” Lexi continued, and help others she will.

A biology major, Lexi looks back to her high school AP Chemistry class when considering what motivated her to pursue a science-based career. She especially enjoyed Mr. Kramer, her high school’s AP Chemistry teacher, claiming “he helped to instill in me the passion for the STEM field.” Yet Lexi’s academic career is not entirely science-based. Following in her sister’s footsteps, she has also committed to a minor in business.

Another deeply-involved student, this college freshman is a member of the Penn State Schuylkill Honors Program, the Marketing Leader for the Business Society, and, like her sister, Lexi is also a member of the Blue & White Society. Additionally, she calculates statistics for the men’s basketball team. She loves the experiences the Schuylkill campus offers.

When asked why she chose Penn State Schuylkill, Lexi answered instantly: “The simple fact of getting a Penn State degree will open doors for you, so choosing a Penn State campus in general is a no-brainer.” But more specifically, she chose the Schuylkill campus for its small class sizes, its location, and, perhaps most importantly, its affordability. Lexi is the first female to have received the Wylonis STEM scholarship, a scholarship offered solely to students attending Penn State Schuylkill. “Not only has the scholarship been a great help financially, but it also has provided me with many mentors who are helping to guide me towards my goals,” she says.

Unparalleled ambition, academic zeal, and commitment to service set these sisters apart from the crowd. Now transitioning out of adolescence and into early adulthood, this pair has lost no steam. In spring 2019, Vanessa will graduate with her degree in business with Lexi not too far behind. These sisters’ post-graduation journey is guaranteed to be just as decorated as their academic careers.