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As I wrap up my last Fall semester at Penn State I can’t help but reminisce on my journey here and my first impression of the institution. I was a junior at Charlotte Amalie High School when I was given the opportunity to participate in a college exposure program hosted by Penn State. I was excited to leave home for the first time and experience a preview of college life! I packed my bags, delighted that I was able to leave the supervision of my mother, even if only for 3 weeks. However, it was when I reached the campus that I began to realize just what I was getting myself into. The first thing that stood out to me was how HUGE the campus was. With its plethora of 400+ seated lecture halls and its myriad of buildings, it became quite daunting to even consider Penn State as an institution that I would actually be interested in going to.

Thus, during the college application cycle, I applied to 14 institutions; Penn State was not one of them. As I went over my college list with my mom, she realized that I didn’t have Penn State as a school that I would apply to. I explained to her my feelings towards the institution, that I thought that it was just too big for me and that I would do better at a smaller school. Despite my efforts to sway her, she continued to strongly encourage me to apply to Penn, saying that it would be one of the few schools that I applied to that I was actually familiar with. Grudgingly, I filled out the application and waited to hear back from all of the schools that I had applied to.

After the application cycle was over, I immediately began to receive acceptance letters from the schools that I applied to. Along with the acceptance letters came the scholarships and the estimated financial aid packages I would receive if I attended the said school. When Penn State’s letter finally arrived, my mom was excited and asked me to open the package. To my mother’s elation, not only did I get into the institution, I was fortunate enough to receive enough scholarships to make the school a feasible option for me, more so than any other institution that I had applied. Thus, with my mother having the final say, I was off to Penn State to pursue my undergraduate education.

To describe my first year at Penn State as phenomenal would be a far cry from the truth. Upon taking my first college STEM courses, I quickly realized that not only was I not as strong of a student as my high school had led me to believe, I would also have to quickly learn how to study effectively if I wanted to excel. However, not only did I have to quickly readjust my study habits, I had to do so while nursing a torn ACL and meniscus due to a tragic fall that occurred my first semester. This came with extreme difficulty, but I was able to take advantage of the support system provided to me and was able to succeed despite the circumstances I faced. However, not only was I able to do well academically, I also had the opportunity to be exposed to research by joining the lab lead by Andrew Read, Ph.D. Thus, it was during my freshman year that I truly became committed to pursuing a career in research and attaining a Ph.D.

Over time, I continued to become more involved in the student life at Penn State. I became more engaged as an undergraduate researcher, and I found my space in other organizations such as the Caribbean Student Association and the African Student Association. Through these various groups, I was finally able to make Penn State my home away from home. However, the extent of the opportunities and resources that Penn State has afforded to me extends far beyond the University Park Campus. Not only have I been able to develop my skills as a researcher at UP, I have also been given the opportunity to conduct research during my summer breaks at other institutions. During the summer of 2016, I was able to do research at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. While there, I conducted research that helped to provide evidence that suggests that Epstein-Barr Virus infects epithelial cells through BDLF2, a protein found on the outer envelope of the virus. Not only was I offered this research opportunity, I recently completed an internship at Yale School of Medicine where I was able to study Akkermansia muciniphila and its effectiveness to be utilized as a mucosal vaccination tool by causing it to express pathogen-associated antigens on its surface. From these experiences, I have learned the commitment required to pursuing a career in research. But most of all, I have learned what it truly means to think critically in science. This form of thinking is very data driven and requires one to think of the multitude of conclusions that can be signified by experiments and to also wonder if there are any other experiments that can be done to provide evidence that either supports or disproves the given conclusions previously provided in the literature.

Now, as a Senior r in college looking back at my junior year in high school, I realize that I have gained so much from my mom pushing me to apply to Penn State. My school has afforded me the resources and support system to climb as far as I can imagine within my pursuits to becoming a scientist. I am grateful for what Penn State has provided and these make the end so bitter-sweet! I will surely miss Dear Old State.

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