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Senior in the spotlight: assistant Santos Acosta

from Penn State Berks

Photo courtesy of assistant Santos Acosta

Santos discovers a passion for biology and finds community on campus.

Aidee Santos Acosta has found her way during her time on campus. Santos will receive her baccalaureate degree in biology with a concentration in genetics and developmental biology on Saturday, May 4, during Penn State Berks’ spring commencement ceremony at Santander Arena in Reading.

Santos grew up in the Dominican Republic and moved to Reading at the age of 11. While her mother studied in the Dominican Republic, Santos is a first-generation college student and noticed differences between higher education there and in the United States.

She said she chose Penn State Berks because of its proximity to home and the opportunities for first-generation and low-income students. Her time at Penn State Berks began as a member of the Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program, which allows freshmen to take two summer classes and earn a $2,000 scholarship for enrollment prior to their first fall semester.

When asked how she would describe her overall college experience, Santos said it was a “roller coaster.” She said it has been difficult to cope, from adjusting to college life in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic to dealing with responsibilities at home.

“I definitely didn’t know it could be so difficult to manage school and family,” Santos said. “It took me some time to get involved on campus.”

Santos credits Alexa Hodge, coordinator of Penn State Berks’ Student Support Services, Aspiring Scholars Program and PaSSS program, for pushing her outside her comfort zone. “She always pushed me to do my best, but she also encouraged and supported me in every decision I made,” Santos said of Hodge.

Santos credits her passion for studying biology to Bryan Wang, a biology teacher, for his dedication to helping his students.

“I fell in love with biology because of the way he teaches the course and the way he really cares about his students,” says Santos. “That’s what really makes a difference between going to class and going to a class where there’s a professor who is really motivated and committed to helping students.”

During her college years, Santos studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Penn State Global’s Perreault Fellows program, where she interned at Clínica Olivos and learned about Argentina’s healthcare system. She has also worked as a research assistant in antibiotic research with Jill Felker, lecturer in chemistry and laboratory manager of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Tami Mysliwiec, associate professor of biology and senior director of academic support and projects.

“Research has opened my eyes to different possibilities in the scientific field and also to the different ways it can impact the medical field,” she said.

Outside of the classroom, Santos served as a peer mentor for the Aspiring Scholars Program. As a mentor for the program, she wanted to give something back.

“I wanted to become a peer mentor to help students like me succeed in college. I am so grateful for all the help from the Aspiring Scholars Program and the Penn State Berks community that I wanted to give back,” Santos said. “It fills me with so much joy to see my students do great things; it’s such a rewarding experience. Knowing that students from backgrounds similar to mine are successful in college is one of the amazing things about Penn State Berks.”

She also served as vice president of Latinos United for Change (LUC), a teaching assistant for the introductory biology course, and a member of the Disciplemakers, a Christian fellowship and student organization.

Santos said what she will miss most about Penn State Berks is the people and support students receive on campus.

“Even though Penn State Berks is a small campus, I think that makes it unique,” ​​she said. ‘We are so close to each other. I don’t think you can ever be alone here. I think I’ll miss that the most.”

On advice for current and future students, Santos said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to get involved. Being involved and finding a community of people who can help and encourage you to do your best is what has a big impact on the university.

Santos is currently seeking research opportunities after graduation, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a medical degree.