Plattsburgh State junior Gina Agnano didn’t have a conventional four-year college experience.
Born in Limón, Costa Rica, the triple magazine, newspaper and multimedia journalism major originally came to PSUC as an undeclared freshman in 2007.
Right before school started, however, she participated in the Odyssey Freshman Adventure Program, which was an opportunity for freshmen to bond through several challenging outdoor activities. This is what prompted Agnano to declare expeditionary studies as her first major.
“I was an expeditionary studies major, and then I minored in journalism and photography,” she said. “It was very different. I was taking a lot of EXP classes, and it was really fun.”
However, after more than two years in the program, she began to question her choice of major and her career path.
In addition to realizing expeditionary studies wasn’t for her, Agnano, at the time, was struggling to cope with a harsh reality— her best friend had committed suicide during her sophomore year.
“It really f—ed me up,” she recalled. “I ended up falling into a really big funk. I stopped going to classes for a bit, and then my grades were slipping. I just didn’t care enough.”
During the fall semester of her junior year in 2009, Agnano decided to leave school.
“So, I dropped out of school, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll be back in a year. I’ll take a year off and figure out what it is I want to do, and then I’ll just come back,’” she said.
One year turned into eight years.
Each time Agnano tried to go back to college, she was faced with a series of obstacles. For example, she took a couple of courses at SUNY Purchase, but she struggled going to her classes and staying on-track as a commuting student. When she tried to enroll full-time at Brooklyn College in New York City, an advisor told her she could become a gym teacher because all of her expeditionary studies credits transferred as gym courses.
Feeling defeated from trying to figure everything out, she eventually decided to come back to where she first started: PSUC.
“One day last year, I was like, ‘I’m going to be 30 in a year,’” she said. “‘I need to finish college.’”
Agnano officially returned to PSUC last fall in 2017 to complete her journalism degree. Once here, she immediately immersed herself in the program and met new people. One of the first people Agnano met was PSUC junior and news journalism major Zachary Jackson.
Having taken a few classes with her, Jackson said she’s “engaging” and “not afraid to speak out.”
“She’s very focused and adamant to go out, get information and meet people,” Jackson said about Agnano and her journalistic abilities. “She’s really friendly, so she doesn’t have any issues with meeting her subjects, talking to them and getting to know them better. I think her work reflects that about her.”
During her first semester back in college, she became a staff writer for DoNorth, a student-run tourism magazine about the Adirondack Coast.
She said that being a part of the magazine her first semester back was a great experience because she was able to “build relationships with people” and be involved at a time when she didn’t know anyone.
Agnano quickly rose through the ranks and is now the editor in chief of DoNorth.
Along with running DoNorth this semester, Agnano is also a teaching assistant for a web design class, taught by journalism lecturer Jack Downs, and an intern for the Press-Republican, in which she creates video content for the paper’s website. She has also worked as a grammar guru and a speech coach for two classes.
Downs described Agnano as “somewhat fearless” and “very direct.” He said she is organized, has a great visual sense and works hard and well with others.
“I’ve enjoyed having her in class,” Downs said. “So much so that I’ve asked her to be a TA now for the second time.”
She is set to graduate with her journalism degree in December 2019.
As an older student, she has learned to reflect on her past and continues to persevere.
“It’s very different being a student at 18 and being a student at 29,” Agnano said. “It didn’t seem that important. But now that I’m an adult going back to school, you realize this does matter. My priorities are definitely in different places now.”
She recommends that any older students like herself who are trying to finish college should “just do it.”
“The older you get, the harder it gets to come back, but it’s not as awful as you’re making it out to be,” she said. “As the older student, I expected to show up and be grandma, but half the people [here] don’t even know I’m an older student. People aren’t as judgmental as you think they’re going to be. So, my advice is to just do it.”
Email Safire Sostre at firstname.lastname@example.org