Summer program sets stage for graduate’s success

Mikayla DeLuca

Mikayla DeLuca

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Katie Quinn

WYOMISSING, Pa. — When Mikayla DeLuca walks across the stage to accept her diploma on May 4, she won’t be the same timid girl who enrolled. Today, DeLuca is a confident student leader who has served as a mentor, conducted research, and completed internships. She will graduate from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology and a minor in psychological science offered through Penn State Behrend.

DeLuca’s Penn State Berks story began when she received a brochure for the Penn State Berks' Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program, which provides an opportunity for invited first-year students to get a head start on their education. The program also provides scholarships to participants. She enrolled in the PaSSS program as the first step in her journey as a Penn State Berks student.

Although she comments that she was very shy, coming to college from a small high school with only 15 students in her graduating class, the PaSSS program helped her to come out of her shell and make connections on campus.

“PaSSS was the start of something great,” stated DeLuca. “It helped me to become the person I am today. I was able to not only accelerate academically but also get involved on campus. My first year, I continued my PaSSS work study position as a chemistry lab assistant and became the public relations representative for the Penn State Berks chapter of the American Chemical Society, as well as a chemistry teaching assistant–all while finishing the first year with a total of 43 credits. Since then I have continued to be involved and contribute to this campus by becoming a PaSSS mentor, orientation leader, first-year mentor, and Lion Ambassador.

Although she originally planned to go to University Park after two years at Berks, she states, “I fell in love with the campus, the faculty and the staff. I loved walking around and knowing people’s names. And Berks is the only campus besides University Park that offers my major.”

DeLuca also excelled academically, working as a teaching assistant in chemistry, biochemistry and organic chemistry labs. She also had the opportunity to conduct research. DeLuca completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Miami University in Ohio, where she was part of team that looked at misconceptions students have in biochemistry in relation to enzyme substrate reactions, and presented this research at the 255th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans in March 2018. On campus, she conducted research with Katie Amaral, associate professor of  chemistry education, on students’ attitudes toward online vs. classroom chemistry classes.

“All through my journey here at Penn State Berks, I was able to establish amazing relationships with the faculty and staff,” stated DeLuca. “I have also discovered my dream and future goal by becoming interested in the field of genetic counseling.”

After completing two internships in the field: a genetic counseling internship at Northwestern University in Chicago and a genetic counseling shadowing experience at Tower Health, she states that she is even more certain that genetic counseling is the field that she wants to pursue in graduate school.

DeLuca’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed. She received several academic awards and scholarships during her time at the college. The scholarships helped to make her dream of earning a college degree a reality.

Raised by a single mother who suffered a back injury and was unable to return to work, finances were tight growing up. Nonetheless, DeLuca’s education was her mother’s highest priority and she enrolled her in private school.

Mikayla DeLuca Cake
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Mikayla DeLuca

In fact, to supplement their income, DeLuca began baking beautiful cakes for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions while she was in high school. She continued to pursue this vocation -- or hobby as she calls it -- through college, explaining that it gave her a creative outlet and a chance to earn some extra money.

“Thanks to all the scholarships I received, I was able to complete all four years and earn my degree. I want to thank all the donors who helped me to achieve my dreams.”

“I’ve had so many leadership opportunities and a great education at Penn State Berks,” stated DeLuca. “I feel like I can tackle the world and know that I’ll be okay because I have that foundation.”