Penn State Educational Partnership Program Celebrate 25 Years of Student Success

 Paredes-Rodriguez applies to FBI Academy, Lemus offered consulting position


In May 2016, two former Reading School District students and first-generation college students will graduate and embark on exciting journeys, and it all began with the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP), an early-intervention collaboration between Penn State Berks and the Reading School District.

Chastity Paredes-Rodriguez will graduate from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of science in science and a minor in chemistry and Jordy Lemus will graduate from Penn State University Park with a bachelor of science in material science and engineering and a minor in Spanish. Paredes-Rodriguez is completing the application process for the FBI Academy and Lemus already has a consulting job lined up after graduation.

Paredes-Rodriguez became involved with PEPP in Southern Middle School. It was during a PEPP ?pick a major? activity that she was introduced to forensic science, and she knew instantly that she had found her calling.

She also credits PEPP with motivating her during those middle school years. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she and her family have lived in several countries, some with more vocational approaches to education. She explains that she did not see the point of reading books and studying until someone from PEPP told her to ?get her act together? so she would have the opportunity to do what she wanted to do with her life.

When it came time to choose a college, Paredes-Rodriguez wanted to begin her studies at Penn State Berks and planned to go to University Park campus, but she soon formed such close relationships with faculty and other students and became so involved in campus activities that she decided to remain at Berks.

The science program was a natural fit for her. She has had an opportunity to explore her passion for forensic science by writing her research thesis on the topic, ?Gun Residue Analysis Using Microfluidics.? She also recently completed a forensic services internship with the Berks County Forensic Science Unit, where she shadowed detectives and worked on such varied projects as blood splatter analysis, computer forensics, latent print analysis, crash reconstruction, and evidence and crime scene processing.

In addition to her classroom and internship activities, she was a Penn State Schreyer Scholar, a member of the Penn State Berks Honors Program and Honors Club, a member of the American Chemical Society and the Penn State Berks Chapter of the American Chemical Society, and a member of several other campus organizations. This year, she received the campus' Academic Excellence Award in Science.

?Penn State Berks has opened a lot of doors for me,? commented Paredes-Rodriguez. ?College is the place you blossom and find your strengths and weaknesses.?

Eventually, Paredes-Rodriguez would like to earn a master?s degree in forensic science and then a doctorate in analytical chemistry.

For Lemus, his relationship with the PEPP program began when he was a sixth grader in Southern Middle School and continued through his senior year in Reading Senior High School.

?My favorite part of PEPP was being able to go to Penn State Berks and shadow students,? he explained. ?My career path changed so much each year. I started wanting to major in psychology. Then I wanted to take it a bit further and look into psychiatry, until one day PEPP took a science field trip to Penn State, which was when I knew I had found something that interested me. Once I got to high school, I wanted to join more Penn State-affiliated programs to get me familiar with the University and their science, technology, engineering and math programs.?

Lemus went on to join Upward Bound math and science, which allowed him to complete two summers of material science and engineering research at University Park as a high school student. After those two summers of research, he was awarded the Bunton Waller Fellowship, an eight-semester award that covers tuition, fees, and room and board.

During his time at Penn State, Lemus continued conducting research, which opened doors to internships. He completed two internships with ArcelorMittal, the world?s leading steel and mining company, as a metallurgical intern in the Quality and Assurance Department and a year co-op at AK Steel as a melt shop process engineer.

Penn State has also helped him grow as a leader in the community. He joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers during his sophomore year, and eventually became executive vice president. He also started Penn State?s first Colombian American Student Association with four of his friends. He states that his long-term goal is to give back to the community that has given so much to him.

After graduation, Lemus will begin the next chapter on his journey, working as a full-time consultant on a variety of production, technology and management projects for Accenture in Philadelphia.

And it all began with PEPP.

History of PEPP

This year, the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP) is celebrating its 25th anniversary. PEPP is an early-intervention collaboration between Penn State Berks and the Reading School District. The mission of the program is to enhance academic preparedness and motivation levels in its Reading School District participants to pursue higher education. As PEPP has grown over the past 25 years, so has its success rate. The program has helped countless students attend college who may never have considered higher education.

PEPP also recruits and trains students from Penn State Berks, most of whom are childhood and early education majors, to act as PEPP Learning Assistants (PLAs). In this role, the Penn State Berks students serve as tutors and mentors, and are positive role models who lead and inspire the PEPP students.

When Penn State President Bryce Jordan first introduced PEPP, it was a developmental and preparation program for teachers. Over the last quarter century, it has evolved into much more. PEPP has had over 3,000 elementary, junior high and high school students participate in the program and over 2,000 PLAs.

Jordan recognized that it was important for college preparation to begin much earlier than in high school because by that time it could be too late to reach students, or to get them on the right track for their personal aspirations.

PEPP is geared toward the average student: one who is competent. From the start, the goal was to help this group of competent students who has potential because it is easy for children from this group to slip through the cracks.

For more information on PEPP, contact Guadalupe Kasper, program coordinator, at 610-396-6272 or via email at [email protected].