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By now it’s conventional wisdom that being the first in your family to go to college is challenging. The question is: why? Jason Homza, a native of Kingston and a first-year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, struggles to explain. “It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it,” he said. “It’s that I didn’t know how.” Research that shows first-generation students are on their own when it comes to college applications and filling out financial aid forms supports his observation. Jason, however, not only found his way through the undergraduate maze. With the support of his family, his wife and the United States Marine Corps, he also negotiated the arduous and sometimes costly path to medical school.

Jason graduated from Wyoming Valley West High School just a few years after 9/11. In addition to knowing the military would pay for his education, Jason said he felt called to serve. He enlisted in the Marines and was deployed to Iraq, where he served as a section leader and received a combat decoration. His older brother, Joe and younger brother, Jeff, also served.

When Jason enrolled at Wilkes University, he entertained thoughts of medicine. The memory of his brother Joe’s grievous injuries from a car accident and his miraculous recovery at the hands of a talented surgeon replayed in his mind. Yet that first-generation obstacle – “I don’t know how to do that” – steered him into earth and physical science. Upon graduation, he was hired as an eleventh grade science teacher at Scranton High School. That’s where he walked into a web of support that would ultimately lead to his white coat ceremony at Geisinger Commonwealth this past August.

“I was friendly with an English teacher, Nan Gramigna, and that’s how I met her daughter, Autumn,” Jason said. He and Autumn wed on Nov. 26. Nan has another daughter, Tara, who is married to a Geisinger Commonwealth Charter Class member, Tom Churilla, MD '13, now a radiation oncology resident at Fox Chase in Philadelphia. This little network, which also includes local surgeon, Jay Bannon, MD, began to encourage Jason to pursue his dream of being a doctor. “I decided to take small steps,” Jason said. “I thought, ‘Here’s the test: I’ll take organic chemistry and see if I do well.’” He then aced both organic chemistry classes. He told himself the same thing with the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam. When he saw his high score, all of his doubts vanished.

Although Jason is unsure of a specialty, he plans to enjoy the journey through Geisinger Commonwealth. “For me, being at Geisinger Commonwealth is not the means to an end. I love it and plan to take the time to enjoy every step of the process.”
Jason Homza