Aidee Santos Acosta discovers passion for biology, finds community on campus

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

Aidee Santos Acosta has carved her path during her time on campus at Penn State Berks. Santos earned her baccalaureate degree in biology with a concentration in genetics and developmental biology on Saturday, May 4, during the Penn State Berks spring commencement ceremony at the Santander Arena in Reading.

Santos grew up in the Dominican Republic and moved to Reading when she was 11 years old. While her mom attended college in the Dominican Republic, Santos is a first-generation college student and noted differences between higher education there versus in the United States.

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She said she chose Penn State Berks because of its closeness to home and its resources for first-generation and low-income college students. Her time at Penn State Berks began as a member of the Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) Program, which allows first-year students 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 replied that it was a “roller coaster.” She said it was difficult to manage, from adjusting to college life in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic to handling responsibilities at home.

“I definitely didn’t know it could be that hard to manage school and family,” Santos said. “It took me a little bit to get involved on campus.”

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Santos credits Alexa Hodge, coordinator of student support services, the Aspiring Scholars Program, and the PaSSS program at Penn State Berks, for pushing her outside her comfort zone. “She always pushed me to do my best, but she also encouraged and supported me with every decision I made,” Santos said of Hodge.

Santos attributes her passion for studying biology to Bryan Wang, teaching professor of biology, because of his dedication to helping his students.

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

During her time as a student, Santos studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Penn State Global’s Perreault Fellows Program, where she interned with Clínica Olivos and learned about the Argentine healthcare field. She’s also served as a research assistant in antibiotic research with Jill Felker, chemistry lecturer and biochemistry and molecular biology laboratory manager, and Tami Mysliwiec, associate professor of biology and senior director of academic support and projects.

“Research opened my eyes to different opportunities in the science field and also the different ways that it can impact the medical field,” she said.

Outside of the classroom, Santos was a peer mentor for the Aspiring Scholars Program. Being a mentor for the program was her way of giving back.

“I wanted to be a peer mentor to help students like me be successful 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 mentees doing amazing things, it is such a rewarding experience. Knowing that students with a similar background as me are being successful in college is one of the amazing things about Penn State Berks.”

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

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

“Even though Penn State Berks is a small campus, I think that’s what makes it unique,” she said. “We’re so close with each other — I don’t think you could ever be alone here. I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”

As for advice for current and prospective 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 you and encourage you to do your best, it’s what makes a great impact in college.”

Santos is currently looking for research opportunities following graduation with her ultimate goal being to attend medical school.

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Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly is an independent and locally owned digital newspaper covering the City of Reading and Berks County. Subscribe today: berksweekly.com/subscribe
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