Vanessa Gil

Schreyer Scholar Vanessa Gil

Vanessa Gil, a security and risk analysis graduate, shares her experiences at Penn State Altoona and with the Schreyer Honors program.

The Schreyer Honors College is Penn State’s University-wide honors program. It comprises a broad set of opportunities for study, research, travel, and scholarly exploration in the arts, humanities, and sciences. The program’s hallmark is an honors thesis that allows students to showcase their diverse intellectual interests in the form of a substantial, independently inspired research or creative project.

Seven Penn State Altoona students graduated this spring from the Schreyer Honors College, including Vanessa Gil. We caught up with Gil to ask a few questions about her experiences.


What made you choose Penn State Altoona?
I chose Penn State Altoona mainly for financial reasons. My parents both work at Penn State Altoona as professors, so I was able to save money through my tuition and housing. However, I was comfortable with my decision since I knew Penn State Altoona has a great faculty.

How did you become involved in the Schreyer Honors College?
I became involved in the Honors College because I wanted the opportunity to do my own research, as well as the opportunity to branch out a bit from the standard practices of my security and risk analysis degree.

How did Penn State Altoona support you as you worked toward becoming a graduate of the program?
I think the biggest advantage was the ongoing support of my advisers and the resources they were able to provide for me.

What were the advantages of being a Schreyer Honors College student while at Penn State Altoona?
With my thesis, I learned a lot about what kind of career I want, and I was able to find my passion for research, specifically in the intersection of risk assessment and sociological concepts.

What did you learn about yourself and your abilities from being a Schreyer Scholar?
My experience was very fulfilling. I owe a lot to my advisers who were able to guide me through my last year at Penn State Altoona with patience and understanding. I think I'm ready for my next steps in life, which will consist of more research and even volunteering.

What is your advice for others considering combining Penn State Altoona and Schreyer Honors College?
My advice is to understand the importance of time management. Writing a research thesis can be somewhat overwhelming at times, especially combined with other work from other classes, so it's really important to space out responsibilities in a way that will cause the least amount of stress. You should always think about your well-being.


Gil’s thesis, "Understanding the Sociological Factors that Impact POC in Human Trafficking: A Risk Assessment," utilizes a risk framework to assess the degree of vulnerability within communities of color to recommend protective and preventive measures.

Karyn McKinney is an associate professor of sociology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State Altoona. She is also the director of the dialogue facilitation team All Voices in Dialogue (AVID) and one of Gil’s thesis advisors.

“Vanessa Gil is one of the best students I’ve had in my 21 years at Penn State Altoona,” McKinney states. “I’ve known her as her teacher, a thesis advisor, and most closely as part of AVID. As an early member, Vanessa helped shape our training program, but even more importantly, has been an integral part of developing the spirit and the mindset of what our program is about. The impact of her talent, intelligence, and hard work in our program will go on long after she graduates. In fact, she has graciously agreed to come back as a guest facilitation trainer in the future. In all the capacities in which I’ve worked with her, Vanessa has been an inspiration, and I’ve learned so much from her about the work I do. I’ve no doubt that her impact on the world will be as significant as it has been to me and all of us in AVID.”

Gill will move to Washington, D.C., this summer to volunteer with sexual violence programs. She plans to continue human trafficking research.

More than 4,000 of the Schreyer Honors College medallions have been presented to Penn State graduates over the years. They are inscribed with “scholarly achievement, integrity of purpose, and intellectual curiosity.” These medals are tangible symbols of the outstanding accomplishments and dedication of these students.