Huntur Woodard, Class of 2021
Student in Salus University Physician Assistant Program
“I use the independent learning skills I developed while at Penn State York and apply them to every class in graduate school. I have become a well-rounded individual because of it.”
As a current graduate student, Huntur Woodard regards his educational experience at Penn State York as comprehensive and first-rate.
“Even though the first two years of my undergraduate education revolved around broader topics, it was still a solid foundation to build upon,” he said. “I got to work with lab material, complete projects, and develop close relationships with the biology professors. My last two years at Penn State York became more intense and focused, but still supportive and encouraging. By the time I graduated, my understanding of these concepts was complete. This made a huge impact on my preparations for applying and interviewing for graduate programs.”
Woodard graduated in the spring of 2021 with a bachelor of science in Biology, and is currently a student in the physician assistant program at Salus University in Pennsylvania. During his time at Penn State York, he was a member of the Graham Fellows Program for Entrepreneurial Leadership (Graham Fellows Program) and the Blue & White Society club, which he cites as the basis for his leadership skills and the wide network he developed.
“The Graham Fellows Program helped me develop professionally; the fellowship emphasized the importance of networking, professional presentation, and exposure to real-world settings where these skills can be demonstrated,” Woodard said. “I also developed leadership and initiative skills during my time as an officer for Blue & White Society, which built my confidence and relationships with people I am still in close communication with today.”
“Both of these clubs made me capable of preparing an application that accurately represented and showcased me,” he continued. “When I was invited to interviews for graduate programs, my professional stature helped prove that the application on paper and the person I truly am are synonymous.”
Not only did the clubs at Penn State York help Woodard feel ready for the next step, but also his experience in the biology field outside of the classroom. He worked with Anne Vardo-Zalik, associate professor of biology, in researching Plasmodium mexicanum, a malaria parasite found in the Western Fence Lizard genetics caused by the 2018 California wildfires.
“There was a lot of work I had to do for this project,” he said. “I wasn’t just standing by and shadowing; I read peer-reviewed articles on all aspects of population genetics, ecological disasters, and more. Once the project was developed, I had to apply for grants and write essays describing the project and how we intended to gather, analyze, and interpret data. Once funding was secured, we got to travel to Hopland, California, and spend two weeks in the field collecting samples. Once I returned to Penn State York, I began to process the data in the labs and could see the prepared plan become a reality.”
“I truly believe that this hands-on experience with Penn State York is what set me apart when applying for graduate school,” he said. “I often find myself utilizing the skills I picked up during this project to learn more about a topic by reading peer-reviewed literature, opening up an old textbook, and communicating ideas within the laboratory setting.”
Woodard also cites Penn State York as the origin point of his personal development.
“I was truly encouraged to develop academically, professionally, and individually,” he said. “Professors saw my potential and pushed me to find confidence in my own abilities. I value the Penn State York community greatly, as many faculty members have proven to be kind, courteous, supportive, and – most importantly – true friends to their students!”
Cheyenne Graham, Class of 2020
Masters Student at the University of Michigan
“A goal I had as a college student was to be a part of something. Looking back on my four years at Penn State York, I realized that I achieved this goal every day I was there.”
Cheyenne Graham’s career in the world of biology has potential – but she hasn’t always known it.
“At Penn State York, I got much support from my professors who knew my potential, even when I couldn’t see it,” she said. “I asked them almost every day if they thought I could even make it to graduate school. Every single one of them always said the same thing, ‘Yes.’ Their affirmations gave me the energy to push myself further and go beyond what I thought was my limit.”
Graham graduated with a bachelor of science in Biology in December of 2020, and is currently a second-year master’s student and soon-to-be doctoral student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Michigan. During her time at Penn State York, she served as president of the Biology Club, which gave her even more confidence within the field.
“After graduation, I took the confidence the campus and my professors gave me to my present career,” she said. “Without this support, I do not think I would have seen just how ready I was to pursue my dream of becoming a researcher, let alone a graduate student!”
Graham cites Penn State York as the birthplace of her true passion within the biology field.
“Penn State York allowed me to find out what I was truly interested in,” she said. “Although it is a small campus, the close connections with my professors gave me the chance to have personal guidance on where I wanted to end up. The biology courses offered at York campus revealed my desire to become an ecologist/evolutionary biologist. Even though genetics and evolution were not my cup of tea while I was at York campus, it has ended up becoming my master’s thesis work!”
The biology program at Penn State York also helped Graham gain experience in the field on a more hands-on level; she interned with a research facility in Maryland where she worked on a research project focusing on bacteriophage and its ability to be used as a stimulant for the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. She also worked with Andrew Landis, associate professor of chemistry at Penn State York, who trained her in working with polymers. In her senior year, she worked with Jessica Petko, associate professor of biology at Penn State York, on studying the circadian rhythm of the common house spider.
“These experiences heavily influenced my career decisions, especially the ones I gained through York campus,” Graham said. “I am so glad I didn’t move on to a bigger campus because the support and opportunities I received at Penn State York allowed me to get to where I am now.”
Not only did Graham experience a career shift during her time at Penn State York, but she also had a shift in her view of herself.
“I used to think that I had to be the smartest person in the room and that grades defined me,” she said. “I used to think that, just because I didn’t know everything, that I could never be a scientist and make an impact. The biology professors helped me realize that just because you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean you haven’t impacted or contributed to science or whatever field you are in. They helped me to believe in myself, and realize just how ready, willing, and able I was for the next step.”
Nicholas Nase, Class of 2022
Veterinary School Student
“The opportunities that were given to me at Penn State York expanded my horizons by giving me experiences outside the classroom that I can and will use for the rest of my career.”
Nicholas Nase wasn’t always sure where his future would take him – but Penn State York changed that.
“While at Penn State York, I received an excellent foundation in biology and chemistry,” Nase said. “This led me to discover and develop my interest in genetics, which expanded my passion for the medical field.”
Nase graduated from Penn State York in the spring of 2022 with a bachelor of science in biology. He received offers from five different veterinary programs, and ultimately decided to attend the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The hands-on experience in the field and laboratory at Penn State York helped prepared me for veterinary school and decide on becoming a veterinarian,” he said. “It gave me all of the tools necessary to become an efficient student, as well as an excellent education that earned me my place in the DVM program.”
One year prior to his graduation, Nase worked a summer in northern California under the guidance of Anne Vardo-Zalik, biology program coordinator and associate professor of biology at Penn State York. Their research examined for any changes occurring in a malaria parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum, in the Western Fence Lizard genetics caused by the 2018 California wildfires. He spent the rest of that year and the following spring leading up to graduation conducting further laboratory research, as well as actively participating in the biology club and agricultural club on campus.
“There are endless opportunities with Penn State York’s biology program,” Nase said. “Without these kinds of hands-on experiences, I would not have been prepared for veterinary practice.”
Nase cites Penn State York as the reason for his success thus far.
“I am very thankful to the professors who gave me a well-rounded understanding of biology, genetics, chemistry, anatomy, physics, and so much more,” he said. “My education here all amounted to me achieving my dream of getting into veterinary school and one day become a veterinarian.”