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Sixth-year Annenberg doctoral student Jessica Taylor Piotrowski testified before a U.S. Senate committee yesterday on the expansion of Pell Grants.

Piotrowski highlighted the role financial aid played in her education at a hearing titled “Access and Affordability: How Expanding Pell Grants Will Offer Higher Education to More Americans.”

“If it wasn’t for the financial aid I was awarded, there would have been no way that I could have attended the University [of Pennsylvania],” she said at the hearing, which Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) attended. “I would not be who I am today — a young woman pursuing a doctoral degree at one of the top communication schools in the country.”

Piotrowski, the oldest of six children, grew up in Northeast Philadelphia in a family that struggled financially but valued education.

She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Penn, able to attend because of the financial aid she received from the University as well as city, state and federal funds. Her siblings also received grants to help with their higher education costs.

“I am so thankful that there were financial aid resources available that have allowed me, and my siblings, to reach for our dreams,” she said.

Piotrowski was one of three students to testify at the field hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, held at Temple University.

Adalena Baxter of Cheyney University spoke about having to work 40 hours a week because she had not received enough aid to cover the cost of college, according to Piotrowski.

D.J. Ryan of Pennsylvania State University spoke about learning the value of financial aid after the funds he had set aside for college were depleted.

A parent and three experts on college costs also testified.

Although Piotrowski said she felt a little anxious before testifying, Casey “put everybody right at ease,” she said.

The Senate is in the midst of considering a bill that would overhaul the financial-aid program currently in place by prohibiting private lenders from giving out loans and expanding the Pell Grant program for needy students.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 253-171 in favor of the bill, which would be the largest restructuring of the financial-aid system in several decades.

The bill awaits approval from the Senate.

A representative of the Senate committee contacted Piotrowski’s advisor at the Annenberg School for Communication, who recommended the Ph.D. candidate for the hearing.

“They were interested in telling my story,” Piotrowski said.

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