From Marine Corps teams to medical school dreams

Erik Avis

Erik Avis

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Katie Quinn

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Erik Avis had no intention of going to college. Growing up in a military family, it seemed only natural to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation. But after a couple tours of duty in Afghanistan, Avis was growing weary of the military lifestyle. That’s when his aunt, who lives in Denver, Pennsylvania, suggested that he apply to Penn State Berks.

Avis, 26, will graduate from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology on Saturday, May 4, during the morning commencement ceremony at 10 a.m.

Originally from Beckley, West Virginia, Avis remembers moving often but spending a good deal of time growing up in Alexandria, Virginia. In the Marines, he was as a landing support specialist, working with large logistical troop movements. He also participated in a humanitarian mission while stationed in Japan when the Philippines was hit by a super typhoon which devastated the country.

But after two deployments to Afghanistan, he began to get depressed. He applied to Penn State Berks while he was still deployed to Afghanistan. When it was time to sign his re-enlistment papers for the Marines, he still hadn’t heard from Penn State and almost signed up for a third deployment. He decided to take his chances and he’s glad he did.

However, the summer before starting his first semester, he joined the Army National Guard where he worked as a medic, a role he enjoyed. Then he started classes at Penn State Berks.

“I thought I was applying to University Park,” he laughs. “I was looking for the stadium.”

At first, he planned complete two years at Berks and then go to University Park but then he began to get involved on campus and started conducting research in his sophomore year and “things started to fall into place.”

“The campus became like a big family,” Avis explained. “I knew my professors.” He added that Berks also had the major he wanted.

He was particularly excited about the research that he conducted with Justin DiAngelo, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. They studied the mutation of various polyamine enzymes to measure the changes in metabolism, such as fat, protein, and glycogen stores, in the common fruit fly. “In one case, the fruit flies mimicked the human disease Robinson Snyder Syndrome, which manifests in a lack of neurological development, physical abnormalities and general developmental issues.” Avis will be presenting his research with DiAngelo at the Gordon Research Conference on Polyamines in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, in June.

Avis excelled academically, making the Dean’s List and graduating with cum laude honors. He was also active in campus life, serving as an orientation leader, Lion Ambassador and first-year mentor, as well as treasurer of the Kinesiology Club and member of the senior activities board and the senior class gift committee.

“I love what I got from Penn State,” stated Avis. “I got hands-on experience and I know my way around a lab. My professors in the lab are like big brothers and big sisters to me. They have written me great letters of recommendation because of how well they know me.”

“The college is also very supportive of veterans; that’s why Penn State Berks has so many awards for serving student veterans,” he added.

Avis plans to go to medical school and eventually become an emergency room physician. For now, he is applying for work in a laboratory setting while he prepares for the MCAT, medical college admission test.

He summarized, “I give credit to my professors and my friends on campus. Without them, I wouldn’t have succeeded like I did.”