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 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, Transition Programs) 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.

  • Zaida Bryant (she/her/hers)  is the Associate Director of Resource and Community Engagement at P1P. Formerly, Zaida served as P1P’s Program Coordinator supporting various logistics of our portfolio including the Pre-First Year Program, academic year workshops and initiatives such as First-Gen Week, and our Gateway Student Mentorship (GSM) Program. Zaida enjoys cultivating spaces to build community for our students and increasing accessibility of various campus resources as seen through her work with our GSM Community Circles. Zaida holds a Masters of Science in Education, Culture, and Society from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and her research interests lie at the intersections of DEI initiatives, student activism, and anti-Blackness. Previously, she also worked at Penn Career Services where she worked on their first-generation and lower-income committee, supervised Peer Career Advisors, and provided front-line support to their professional staff. Zaida holds a B.A in Anthropology from Susquehanna University. In her spare time, Zaida enjoys hiking, finding new food places to eat, 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.