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Senior Spotlight: Erick Astacio

Senior Spotlight: Erick Astacio

by Penn State Berks

Photo courtesy of Erick Astacio

Biochemistry and molecular biology major perseveres and builds his own path to success.

Growing up, going to college was always a dream for Erick Astacio. While it seemed like the dream was out of reach at times, he found a way to succeed.

In a few days, he will realize that dream when he crosses the stage to earn his baccalaureate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in chemistry, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, during the Penn State Berks spring commencement ceremony at the Santander Arena in Reading.

A Reading High School graduate, Astacio chose Penn State Berks because it was affordable, he heard great reviews, and it was close to his family. He explained that he had always found refuge in school.

“I’ve always wanted to go to college. Even when I was little, we would have college presentations in school, and the presenters would tell us about higher education,” Astacio said. “At the time, I wasn’t really sure what higher education was, but I always knew I wanted that.”

When he arrived on campus for the fall 2018 semester, he found that the transition from high school to college was tougher than he imagined, environmentally and personally.

“It was really hard for me to adjust to the environment here,” he said. “At Reading High, I was around students who were like me who faced the same struggles as me, and everything there was familiar. I felt uprooted when I got to Berks, and it was completely different.”

On top of adjusting to college life, Astacio served as a parental figure for his siblings alongside his mom. As the second oldest child in his family and a first-generation college student, Astacio said he felt added pressure to support his family and succeed for them.

“I felt like their success was completely dependent on me, and if I didn’t do things right for them, I set them up for failure,” he said.

Astacio decided to leave Penn State Berks after his first semester and enlisted in the Marine Corps as a reservist. For him, choosing to serve in the Marines was an opportunity to have structure in his life and a way for him to build self-confidence. “There was a lot about myself that I wanted to learn,” he said.

When he returned to Berks County after his service, he knew he wanted to earn a degree and returned to campus in 2021.

Coming back to Penn State Berks presented another set of challenges for Astacio. He knew he wanted to choose a STEM-focused major but was unsure of which direction he wanted to go.

Bryan Wang, teaching professor of biology, recommended the biochemistry and molecular biology major to him while Maureen Dunbar, associate professor and program chair of biology, suggested that Astacio get involved with undergraduate research.

Astacio worked with Justin DiAngelo, associate professor and program chair of biochemistry and molecular biology, on research focused on identifying genes that are important for fat metabolism by studying the fruit fly (Drosophila).

From there, things began to click for him. Astacio credits DiAngelo, Dunbar, and Wang for recognizing his potential and guiding him along the way.

“Penn State Berks provided me the environment I needed for a lot of processing. I had amazing professors who never gave up and helped me overcome a lot of those thoughts about not being good enough and pushed me to where I am today.”

Following graduation, Astacio will head to the University of Pennsylvania to work as a research specialist at its Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Research. He also wants to apply to graduate schools to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.

Astacio’s advice to current and prospective students? “Learn to deal with being uncomfortable,” he said, “but never let being uncomfortable determine who or where you are.”