From Poverty to Prestige

For Koran Dunbar, the road to graduation was neither easy nor short: it took him twenty years to graduate from Penn State Mont Alto, taking one or two courses at a time while working a handful of jobs to support his son and pay for school. 

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Dunbar was dealt a tough hand. His father was in prison, and his mother struggled with addiction and died when Dunbar was young. Dunbar and his older sister, Eve, were raised by their grandfather in Pennsylvania. 

Dunbar was fortunate that Eve, whom he describes as “brilliant,” attended Penn State on a McNair Scholarship and paved the way for him to attend college. While Eve was available to answer any questions Dunbar had about the application process and financial aid, finances were nevertheless a challenge, given that he had no parental support and had become a single parent himself to son Aurelius at a relatively young age. 

Dunbar made it work by balancing courses at Penn State Mont Alto with full-time corporate jobs, DJ gigs, and a burgeoning career as a filmmaker. Over the course of his time at Mont Alto, Dunbar went from living out of his car with Aurelius to producing an award-winning film. In 2012, Dunbar released “Greencastle” to critical acclaim. The film, which starred Dunbar and Aurelius, is a semi-autobiographical story that covers the protagonist’s life as a single father in small-town Greencastle, Pa., where Dunbar lives. "Greencastle" won Best Feature Film at the 2012 Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Hudson, Ohio, and Dunbar won Best Actor in a Feature Film for his portrayal as Poitier Dunning at the 2012 World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington, DC. Today, Dunbar has three feature-length films to his name.

When COVID-19 hit in spring 2020, Dunbar’s work as an artist dried up and tuition money was hard to come by. Fortunately, Complete Penn State provided him with support in his final semester and helped him push past the finish line. In May 2020, he completed his degree in arts and sciences just in time for his son, Aurelius, to begin his first semester at Penn State. Aurelius is now a member of the men’s wrestling team at the University Park campus. 

“I look back and I’m grateful for what God has blessed my life with,” he said. “When I tell my story it’s hard to believe—going from being homeless to producing an award-winning film. I can honestly say, though, that graduating from Penn State tops winning my first award as a filmmaker.”