From skepticism to success, former Penn State Altoona student Lexi Triforo’s college career was the springboard to a journey she never imagined.
By: Marissa Carney
Lexi Triforo was not exactly excited about starting her college career at Penn State Altoona. As an area native, she grew up hearing all the jokes and disparaging comments about the college. But it made the most sense for her to spend two years on the campus then transfer to University Park. Her expectations were modest, but her hopes were high as she began her studies in German.
As Triforo moved through her first two years, she found herself increasingly devoted to her studies of the German language and culture, but it wasn’t just because she enjoyed the subject. Something unexpected was happening.
Triforo had always longed to get out of the confines of her hometown—a place she feels is homogenous and motionless, a place that so many of her peers seem content to never venture beyond. “I found that a lot of them don't have the want or desire to get out of their comfort zones and explore the rest of the world. That desire was something I felt strongly innate in me, but I just did not know how to make it happen.”
So, every time Triforo stepped into the classroom of Dr. Jutta Gsoels-Lorenson or Anja Wagner, both German instructors, it was like chipping away at the walls of the box that surrounded her. Through language, these women introduced Triforo to diverse values and insights from different cultures, igniting her desire to explore and learn more about the world.
In turn, when Triforo transferred to University Park, she joined World in Conversation, a cross-cultural dialogue center, where she learned how to facilitate conversations between people across the University and around the world. She also paired German with a business track and obtained a Smeal business certificate along with her bachelor’s degree in German in 2018.
After graduation, Triforo, encouraged and supported by Gsoels-Lorenson, applied for a Fulbright Austria grant. The program allows grant recipients to live and work among, learn from, and share daily experiences with people of a host country. It facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks.
Triforo was accepted to the program and arrived in Klagenfurt, Austria, in September 2019. “I did not have any expectations going into it. I knew it would strengthen my German which would be helpful in my career. I knew I would learn a lot, too, but I also wanted to enjoy the experience to the fullest.”
Lexi Triforo surveys the landscape during a field trip with her students to Hochosterwitz Castle in Austria.
Credit: Lexi Triforo
As an English teacher at one of the best Gymnasiums in Carinthia, she not only strengthened her German skills, but also gained insights into cultural exchange and community building. “Whatever I thought it was going to be, it was ten times more than that. I was ecstatic to be able to use the language and be immersed in the culture that I had been studying for the last eight years of my life. It opened all the doors and windows to the rest of the world for me.”
So, it was particularly devastating when she was forced back to the States in March 2019 by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, her experience had given her some valuable direction.
Through the Fulbright Austria program, Triforo realized that she enjoyed working in education, but she didn’t want to teach. Instead, she decided to pursue education technology—edtech for short—in which education and technology are combined to facilitate learning across the globe.
Over the next several months, Triforo thoroughly researched the edtech industry and built her technology skills through independent learning. In 2021, she secured a position in the D.C. area providing technical support for an online teaching and learning system used specifically for higher education. She then moved to Appian, where she now manages operations for the company’s education services department.
“I'm very happy where I ended up. Despite the unexpected twists and turns along the way, I’m satisfied from where I started to where I am now.” Triforo goes on to say that she believes taking risks is essential for personal and professional growth. “Change is scary, but living in fear holds you back.” She credits Penn State Altoona as the catalyst to embracing change, trusting herself, and landing where she has.
And where she is today is in a city she adores, in a lucrative, fulfilling career with a wide-open horizon of possibilities. Triforo dreams of working for prestigious educational media outlets like PBS or National Geographic. “There are so many incredible people I've met who have studied languages, and they're all over the place doing incredible things. There are no limits with a liberal arts degree. It's up to you to choose where and how far it will take you.”
While she doesn’t use or speak German on a day-to-day basis, Triforo credits her study of the language with teaching her how to communicate. “Being able to communicate with people from different cultures, from different backgrounds has been crucial to my success.”
Triforo offers advice to Penn State Altoona students trying to find their way, just as she was all those years ago walking into college German courses for the first time. “Be the most authentic person you can be and follow your passions. Confront your fears, and never stop learning.”