About Penn First Plus

Penn First Plus is the University of Pennsylvania’s hub for efforts to make the campus more inclusive of all forms of diversity, specifically at the intersections of social and economic background. Specifically, we expand access to the Penn experience for currently enrolled undergraduates who are the first in their families to pursue a bachelors degree in the United States of America or at an institution with the resources and opportunities of a highly selective private research university. Students who identify as lower-to-middle income are also part of our community of scholars.

Reporting to the Deputy Vice Provost, and working in close partnership with units in University Life, Student Engagement, and Financial Aid, Penn First plus is uniquely situated to advocate for students and collaborate with faculty and staff across all facets of the university.

In that capacity, Penn First Plus:

  • Collaborates with the undergraduate colleges and their faculty on initiatives to promote more inclusive pedagogy, accessible curricula, and holistic advising for undergraduates
  • Provides programming that empowers students to map individualized pathways through their Penn experience
  • Partners with colleagues in Student Registration and Financial Services and across campus to find ways to make Penn’s academic and extracurricular opportunities more affordable and accessible
  • Promotes the importance of socioeconomic diversity in academe



First-generation in this context is used to describe any student whose educational background meets one of or all of the following criteria:

  • One or more of your parents or guardians had not completed their bachelor’s degree at the time of enrollment at Penn or took more than 6 years to complete said degree.
  • One or more of your parents or guardians did not complete their bachelor’s degree in the United States.
  • You are the first person in your family to attend a research university with the resources and opportunities a Penn education provides.
  • You have a strained or limited relationship with the person(s) in your family who hold(s) a bachelors degree.

Lower-income and middle-income

Income and the opportunities to which it provides access varies significantly by geography, cost of living, and family size. Perception of income level may also vary based on the perceived wealth of the people around you. Therefore, there is no set definition of lower- and middle-income we use in Penn First Plus – you are welcome to identify as you feel most comfortable.

Highly aided

This term was developed by Student Registration and Financial Services as a tool to help us identify those students from our lowest income backgrounds and prioritize supplemental funding opportunities within the limitations of the university resources. Currently, highly aided students are all students who have family incomes below $65,500/year and an expected contribution to the cost of attending Penn below $4,500. As more resources become available, we hope to expand this circle to include more students. If you are a highly aided student, this information has been communicated in your award letter and is available when you log in to review your financial aid award.


  • Marc Lo

    Marc A. Lo (he/him/his) is the inaugural Executive Director of Penn First Plus. Marc is responsible for providing leadership for Penn’s work to reimagine itself and become more inclusive of its increasing socioeconomic diversity. He is enthused by the opportunity to craft Penn First Plus as the hub for all initiatives to change how we teach, advise, and mentor students who may be the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree and come from modest financial means. On a day-to-day basis, Marc meets with and advocates on behalf of individual students and the entire First Plus population. Marc was the first person in his family to complete his bachelors degree, receiving Pell Grant support while working multiple jobs at Northeastern University as an undergraduate. In his spare time, Marc enjoys meditation, yoga, hiking, the arts, and food-related adventures. You may contact Marc via email at lomarc@upenn.edu or phone at 215-898-7947. As a scholar, Marc holds degrees in Organizational Communication, and Higher Education from Northeastern University and New York University, respectively. His scholarship explores questions of campus climate for diversity and their relationship with student learning as well as topics of inclusive pedagogy and curricula. Samples of his work may be found in the Journal of College Student Development, Research in Higher Education, the Journal of Higher Education, and Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning to name a few publications.

  • Keisha Johnson

    Keisha Johnson (Director, Pre-Freshman Program) Keisha Johnson is excited to join the Penn First Plus team and continue her passion of supporting and cultivating students to reach their fullest potential academically and holistically. She has over 12 years of experience managing student success programs with a special focus on access and retention as well as a scientific background in biology and soil science. As former Director of The University of Pennsylvania Knowledge is Power Program (PennKIPP), she managed a unique partnership that support KIPP alumni who attended nation-wide KIPP charter schools and now attend Penn. Prior to Penn, Keisha was Assistant Director of Science Diversity Initiatives in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State University, University Park, PA. At Penn State she co-managed a university-wide scholarship program that included a residential living learning community as well as engaged scholarship and co-curricular initiatives. She was also a former biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office, Annapolis, MD. Keisha earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in agricultural science with a concentration in water quality from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She completed doctoral coursework in soil science at Penn State. She enjoys the outdoors, arts, music, traveling, cooking, serving students and community as well as spending quality time with family and friends.

  • Hatef Alavi

    Hatef Alavi (he/him/his) is P1P’s inaugural Associate Director. Hatef joined us from Rowan University in August 2019 where he completed his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in 2020. Hatef’s research focuses on the lived experiences of first-generation undergraduate Black men at a PWI. Hatef holds an M.Ed. in Higher Education Management from the University of Pittsburgh, and a B.A. in Psychology and Leadership Studies from Rowan. During his time at Rowan, Hatef held positions coordinating inclusive academic, social, and cultural mentorship and success programs and serving on their First-Generation Task Force. Hatef also has significant experience in Residential Life. In addition to providing student support through P1P, Hatef will be involved with the facilitation of P1P’s student-facing programmatic partnerships as well as the development of our staff training programs. Hatef is based in College Hall suite 118. Outside of his professional and academic life, Hatef played soccer for 17 years. He enjoys attending and watching sporting events, weight training, traveling, learning about different cultures, listening to music, spending time with family and friends, and cooking.

  • Zaida Bryant

    Zaida Bryant (she/her) is P1P’s Program Coordinator. Zaida joined the P1P team after working at Penn Career Services for almost two years where she served on the first-gen committee. Zaida was the first in her family to graduate college. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Susquehanna University and is currently pursuing her M.S.Ed in Education, Culture & Society at Penn GSE. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, listening to music, and spending time at bookstores and coffee shops.

  • Camille Charles

    Camille Z. Charles is Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Africana Studies and Education, Director of the Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen, and Faculty Co-Director of Penn First Plus at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Charles’ research interests and expertise are in the areas of racial inequality and elite higher education; including the diverse origins and experiences of Blacks at elite colleges and universities, racial residential segregation, racial attitudes and intergroup relations, and public opinion.  She is author or coauthor of numerous books and articles, including The Source of the River: The Social Origins of Freshmen at America’s Selective Colleges and Universities, “Black Lives and Police Tactics Matter,” and “The Real Record on Racial Attitudes.”

  • Rob Ghrist

    Robert Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University PIK Professor of Mathematics and Electrical & Systems Engineering at Penn.  His research is in applied mathematics, specifically, in applications of algebraic topology to problems in data, networks,  robotics, neuroscience, and more. Since coming to Penn, Ghrist has been the lead investigator on more than $10 million in grants from the Department of Defense to develop new applications of topology. He was named one of the top 50 for research innovation by Scientific American in 2007, and in 2013, his peers recognized Ghrist with the Chauvenet Prize for mathematical writing, awarded by the  Mathematical Association of America. He is a dedicated educator, with a YouTube channel full of mathematical animation for all.

  • Nicholas Mathews

    Nicholas Mathews was raised in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and is P1P’s Graduate Assistant. He is a first-generation college student and earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He is currently attending the University of Pennsylvania working toward a M.S.Ed in Counseling and Mental Health Services. Mr. Mathews is also the president and co-founder of the nonprofit organization, King of Jewels, that provides mentorship and leadership development opportunities for young men of color.

  • Amanda
    Amanda Bello is a College junior from Miami, Florida. She studies Religion and Cinema studies at Penn, hoping to work as a writer for children’s television one day. Outside of class she is a member of Bloomers Comedy cast and an avid scrapbooker. Her favorite movie is National Treasure and (she does not want to sound basic but) her favorite artist is definitely Taylor Swift.
  • Christine
    Christine Ngugi is a sophomore studying Computer Science. She was born and raised in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, where she lived with her parents and five siblings. She is passionate about technology, and the impact that technology could have in solving the challenges that exist especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In line with this, her career goals lie in Software Engineering where she hopes to merge her intellectual curiosities with her passion for problem-solving in technology. She is involved with the FGLI Dean’s Advisory Board where she served as treasurer, the Society of African Internationals at Penn, and Upenn Chaarg, which is a fitness group that promotes healthier lifestyles. Outside class, she enjoys listening to podcasts, cooking, and watching movies. Her favorite recently produced movie is Knives Out, and her favorite old movie is Stromboli, a classic from the 50s. She enjoys ethnic Kenyan food, her favorite being Chapati, which always makes her feel in touch with my roots.
  • Damaris
    Damaris Chaidez is a first-generation undergraduate nursing student originally from Los Angeles, California. As the oldest child with two younger siblings, she has always tried to set a good example for them to look up to. Although she is a nursing student (and has yet to explore which field of nursing interests her the most), she is currently exploring other interests in the music industry. She has plans of being a travel nurse, but also wants to somehow combine her passion for music. On campus, she is involved as an editor for La Vida Magazine, a Latinx publication, and Class Board 2022. Damaris loves to travel, sing, dance, and is interested in photography. Some of her favorite artists are Maluma and CNCO, and one of her favorite TV shows is 9-1-1.
  • Jose
    Jose Mendoza is from the town of Little Elm, TX and has three siblings-one of which is a freshman at Penn. He is in Wharton concentrating in Management and will be working for JP Morgan in Dallas, TX upon graduation this spring. Jose is actively involved with the Latinx and FLGI community at Penn and is also an hermano of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Incorporated. Some of his hobbies include cooking, soccer, and spending time with family. While at Penn, he recommends people stop by Taquería La Prima in South Philly for some amazing tacos and agua de horchata!