Rhea Elena Sullivan

I was a camp counselor and a science teacher at a one-week STEM immersion program at Camp Catanese. I found that I shared many values with Camp Catanese; they believe that everyone should have equal access to opportunity and education. The camp and its staff mentor young people of Phoenix, Arizona, encouraging them to believe in their own futures. We open opportunities to learn about STEM and college, no matter their financial or legal status. I left Arizona with six beautiful Mexican-American 14-year-old girls as my mentees and little sisters. Not only did I have the privilege to teach them science, but I was able to form a long-lasting relationship with them.

This experience was important to me because I was able to share all the resources and opportunities of which I’ve been blessed to receive in my education. I started in college not knowing what to do with my life, to being accepted to an NIH—a funded MD/PhD program right out of undergrad. Being able to “pass it on” to other young, ethnic people brought tears to my eyes. Not only was I able to establish a mentorship relationship with campers of Camp Catanese, but I was able to inspire them through my microscope/research class. To put it bluntly, these kids had nothing. Some of them were homeless, some of them were without legal documentation, some of them had no hope for their life. A simple mentorship has truly changed these students’ lives. They dream in confidence of what they can become, all because someone believed in them first.

I’m a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major (BMB) who, through my education at Penn State, has learned various science technical skills. I have worked in a lab since my freshman year and have been offered lab internships each summer. Because of these experiences, I was able to educate young people about the opportunities available to them. My main message to them is that if you work hard, you truly can achieve anything you want in this life. You have to believe in yourself to find success. Also, during my class, I taught the students how to use them and about their applications. Because of the grant I received, I was able to provide a hands-on activity for inspiring an academically underserved population.

Being a counselor at Camp Catanese was a truly humbling experience. When I first met my campers in the cabin, they asked me if they could flush the toilet and if there was hot water. They jumped up and down, exclaiming, “This is like a hotel!” Here I am, privileged and blessed to attend Penn State University, and they are rejoicing at the thought of hot water. I was also surprised at the number of students who had NEVER heard of a microscope before. Because of the extremely generous grant, I was able to purchase microscopes for the students to use in their science classes at Pueblo Del Sol high school. As a result of this moving experience, I will continue to “pass it on” and mentor those who come after me in the STEM field. This experience has created a trailblazer for other young women in STEM.

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