Overcoming Disabilities, Exemplary Students Receive State Honors for Academics and Service
(Delaware and Chester Counties, PA • April 11, 2017)—Best friends Gina DiLuzio and Scott Duffy have learned how to succeed, in spite of having to contend with debilitating disabilities at times. They were recently lauded for their academic prowess and unselfish service to Delaware County Community College and their community.
DiLuzio of Ridley Park and Duffy of Collingdale were among 49 community college students statewide named to the All-Pennsylvania Academic team. They were honored at an April 3 awards dinner at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges in conjunction with Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for two-year colleges.
All-PA students must have a minimum 3.5 grade point average, must have completed at least 36 college-level credits and must be on track to receive an associate or bachelor’s degree. DiLuzio and Duffy have 4.0 GPAs and will graduate from the College on May 18. DiLuzio also has been selected to address her classmates as the student speaker for the College’s 2017 Commencement ceremony.
All-PA students are eligible to attend one of the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) tuition free for up to two years. A psychology major, DiLuzio is considering transferring to a PASSHE four-year university, where she would major in psychology toward her goal of eventually becoming a neuropsychologist. A computer science major, Duffy participated in the College’s dual admission program and is now guaranteed admission at his PASSHE school of choice, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He plans to pursue a career in cyber security.
Duffy also has the distinction of being selected as one of only 20 students from two-year colleges nationally to be members of the All-USA Community College Academic Team, a recognition that comes with a $5,000 scholarship. He also was named a 2017 Coca-Cola New Century Scholar, which comes with a $2,000 stipend. New Century scholars are the highest scoring students in the state. Later this month, Duffy will be recognized for his accomplishments at Phi Theta Kappa’s President’s Breakfast during the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges in New Orleans, Louisiana.
However, it has not been an easy journey for DiLuzio or for Duffy.
DiLuzio has Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a rare neurological disorder that causes chronic pain in the hands, arms and other parts of the body. In high school, she was confined to a wheel chair. She has had several surgeries and long stays in the hospital. After her kidneys failed in 2014, she was put on a list for a kidney transplant and she receives regular treatments for her kidney failure. Despite her disabilities, DiLuzio is undaunted, optimistic, humble and compassionate toward others. “For as long as I can remember, I have been the happiest when I am helping others,” she says.
Among other things, DiLuzio is president of the College’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter; vice president of buildOn, an international non-profit group that builds schools in poor countries around the world; a mentor with the United Network for Organ Donation, a private, non-profit organization that manages the nation's organ transplant system; a College tutor; and a student ambassador helping other students become familiar with the College. DiLuzio also works two part-time jobs, one at a psychologist’s office and one at a frozen yogurt shop.
“I've learned throughout my life that your future can change in a blink of an eye. However, I promised myself to push through my illness,” DiLuzio said. “I want to help others cope with neurological conditions. I refuse to let a diagnosis hold me back, and I want others to have the same confidence.”
One College administrator had this to say about DiLuzio: “During my 20-plus years as a higher education administrator, I have never seen a student continue to succeed at an amazing level while
encountering so many obstacles. It is important to note that while overcoming these barriers, she has always exhibited an extremely positive attitude, and that is why she is so well-respected and admired by all members of the College community.”
One person DiLuzio has helped is Duffy, who as student speaker at the April 3 All-PA awards dinner thanked DiLuzio for “pushing me to be my best” and said in reference to their both receiving the All-PA award, “Gina, there is no one I would rather share this prestigious honor with than you. I look forward to a long friendship.”
Duffy has a learning disability, a visual tracking disorder and has obsessive compulsive disorder, a brain and behavior disorder which causes severe anxiety. But Duffy has conquered his disabilities through a contagious zest for life, a spirited, goal-oriented attitude, and a genuine desire to help others. “After all, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my time at community college is that it is my job to positively impact as many people as possible,” he said.
At the All-PA dinner, Duffy also attributed his success to participating in extra-curricular activities, the education he received from his professors, help he received from staff at the College, becoming a tutor for other students, and seeking and following sage advice, whether from family or friends. Duffy was one of 20 students selected from more than 1,800 students at more than 1,000 community colleges for the 2017 Coca-Cola New Century Scholar award. Judges considered academic accomplishments, leadership, activities and most importantly, how students extended their intellectual talents beyond the classroom.
A black belt in karate, Duffy is vice president of fundraising for the College’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter and he is a member of the College’s Women in STEM club, which seeks to inform and advocate for women entering the careers of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Women in STEM club sponsored a TechGirlz workshop last year, which Duffy was instrumental in pulling together. The workshop taught 11 middle school girls C++ computer coding. TechGirlz is a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the gender gap in technology occupations. Duffy is a peer mentor, and has volunteered for local stream clean ups and led the Student Government Association’s effort to bring therapy dogs from Paws for People to the College the week before final exams as a way of helping students alleviate stress.
The All-USA Community College Academic Team is sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group, a leading provider of college and university bookstore services, with additional support provided by Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The New Century Scholars program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, PTK and the AACC. Students nominated to the national All-USA Community College Academic Team are automatically named to the All-State Community College Academic Teams. The programs share common eligibility criteria.