WYOMISSING, Pa. – Penn State Berks senior Lestine Paye has had quite the journey to get to where she is today. From the outside looking in, it seems as though she’s done it all with ease. In just a few weeks, she’ll graduate with her bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on marketing and management, and a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. For her, the challenges she’s faced have deeply influenced her personal and professional development.
Paye immigrated to United States from Liberia, West Africa, when she was 11 years old. She and her family settled in Springfield, Pennsylvania, before moving to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, when she was in high school. According to Paye, she and her family came to the United States for better opportunities, but the journey didn’t come without its struggles.
“When we got here, it was kind of challenging, because my parents didn’t really know the ins and outs of the education system. They were just trying to make money to live day to day, so putting me in school wasn’t a top priority. A lot of my time was spent indoors teaching and educating myself so that I didn’t fall behind in school,” she said.
In high school, Paye was a part of College Possible, a nonprofit AmeriCorps organization that provides underrepresented or first-generation students with college access and resources and empowers them to earn a college degree. Many mentors she met through the organization were from Penn State, and she saw their passion for the University. Despite going to a large high school with around 4,000 students total, Paye knew she wanted a more intimate environment.
Throughout the college application process, she connected with Alexa Hodge, the coordinator of Student Support Services and the Aspiring Scholars Program at Penn State Berks, who talked to her about how the program provides high school students with resources to successfully transition into college life. Though she was accepted into plenty of other notable colleges, she said, none reached out in the way that Hodge did to develop a relationship with a prospective incoming student.
“The support that I’ve been given by the people here, all of that plays into the passion and love that I have for this University,” Paye said. “I’m here today because of the relationships I have with the people that I met here.”
Paye certainly took advantage of the opportunities on campus, which allowed her to further her relationships. As a participant in the Aspiring Scholars program, one of the requirements is to build relationships with professors. For Paye, this led to becoming a teaching assistant for trigonometry, algebra, and calculus classes taught by Selvi Jagadesan, assistant teaching professor of mathematics, during her first two years on campus. Following her first year at Penn State Berks, she became an Aspiring Scholars mentor. In her third year, she received the Wickel Family Award, given to the student with outstanding academic achievement in the business major. She received the Outstanding Service Award in Business in her senior year.
Outside of academics, Paye currently serves as the vice president of the Student Government Association, having previously served as the president and chief of staff. She is also a Campus Advisory Board member and a voting member of the Student Fee Board, and she has served on search committees for various positions.
“Penn State Berks has really helped me see that nothing is impossible. If you want something, with perseverance, nothing can stop you from getting it,” she said.
Currently, Paye interns with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State University Park, where her daily work consists of providing resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for University employees to allow them to thrive in their work environments. This internship is a continuation of her summer internship with the same office. Her success in the internship program resulted in an additional internship experience with Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State Berks, a position she has held for the duration of the 2022-23 academic year. In this role, Paye helps to coordinate events and activities that reach students, alumni, and donors alongside her supervisor, Melissa Edwards, interim director of development and alumni relations.
One of the key lessons Paye has learned? “Working in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion, has helped me to learn how to treat others with more compassion and empathy. We all have internal and external battles that we face daily so being able to create an environment where someone can be their true authentic self is very important to me.”
Following graduation, Paye wants to continue her work in development and alumni relations with a focus on improving DEI at Penn State. Eventually, she also wants to use her degree and experiences to open a restaurant featuring African cuisine and culture, with plans to eventually go global.
Regarding choosing to attend Penn State Berks, Paye stated, “It has been the greatest decision I’ve ever made, and it’s all thanks to the challenges I’ve encountered and my ability to persevere. It’s thanks to the people I’ve had here, the ones who believe in me and saw my worth even in times when I didn’t. It’s thanks to the leadership experiences I’ve had here that led me to great friendships. Everything here has really grown me into this person that I am today, and I am greatly appreciative to God and my time at Penn State Berks.”