WYOMISSING, Pa. – Growing up in the foster care system, Penn State Berks senior Amy Yu never imagined where her life would take her. However, she refused to let herself be defined by her past. On Dec. 16, she’ll graduate from Penn State Berks with her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management in just three years — an accomplishment she never imagined for herself.
Yu switched foster care housing placements often. She said she didn’t value education as much until she arrived at her last placement, Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, where she learned the value that education can have in someone’s life.
The Penn State Berks Aspiring Scholars Program drew Yu to the Berks campus. Developing connections with the other students and Program Coordinator Alexa Hodge helped Yu to appreciate all that Berks had to offer. Her time as a mentee in the program inspired her to become a mentor for the following year’s Aspiring Scholars class.
“To this day, I still call those people my family. The emotional connection I have with them is what got me to choose Penn State Berks and go all the way in,” Yu said.
Yu acknowledged that there’s a stigma that comes with being in the foster care system, which added some nervousness about how people would perceive her. When she arrived at Penn State Berks and met with the other Aspiring Scholars, she found people who welcomed her with open arms.
“In the Aspiring Scholars Program, I became comfortable with myself. I was able to have a fresh start and have people accept me for who I am. It’s why I decided to stay at Berks, and it impacted me so much that I wanted to have the same impact and inspire other foster youth to come to college,” she said.
She started her college career as a business major because she wants to become an entrepreneur. However, Yu felt that she was missing the human connection within the major.
“I learned that business is more about numbers and not about how people feel, and I didn’t really like that. For me, I feel like a business will grow more if you build connections with people,” she said.
What drew her to the hospitality management major was the ability to network and connect with classmates and professors, particularly Pauline Milwood, associate professor of hospitality management, and Penn State Berks Chef Joe Ertel.
During her time in foster care, the foster mothers in her housing placements taught her to cook various cuisines, which inspired her love for cooking. This experience allowed her to connect with Ertel and Milwood, even serving as a teaching assistant for the HM 330: Food Production and Service Management course.
“Being a teaching assistant for the class, I was able to teach other students who have never been in a kitchen before how to cook and teach them about the art and culture of food. I was able to shadow and learn from Chef Joe who has a lot of experience, which helped me grow as a chef, too,” Yu said.
Yu also participated in the Advanced Food Production and Service Management course, in which students create a pop-up restaurant in the Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building. This year’s restaurant featured a Caribbean-themed menu where Yu served as a student manager and was in charge of marketing and public relations.
Additionally, she studied abroad in summer 2023 with Penn State’s Hospitality Management program through the University Park campus. During that experience, Yu visited Florence, Italy, and Maastricht, Netherlands.
Outside of her coursework, Yu has been involved with Latinos United for Change and the Penn State Berks diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging committee. Yu also represented the Berks campus foster program while speaking on a University-wide student panel. In her spare time, she also owns a small business called ‘Amy Artz’ where she offers freelance art and graphic design services.
Beyond Penn State Berks, she dedicates her time to speaking with other foster youth and encouraging them to pursue a higher education degree.
As for her future plans, Yu is looking for full-time marketing positions and will start her MBA at Temple University. She also has her sights set on opening a multicultural restaurant someday.
Yu sums up her experience at Penn State Berks as “unique” and credits the support system she’s built on campus — as well as the adversity she faced living in foster care — as motivating factors to push her forward.
“I was able to get my degree and finish college in three years, and I’m very proud of that. I pushed myself and beat the odds and stereotypes of how people think of foster kids,” she said.