The Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development sat down with Elidenya Peña, a first-generation student triple majoring in Biology, Africana Studies, and Public Health. She aims to obtain a Ph.D. in Epidemiology specializing in Women’s Health and Cancer! Please read below to learn more about her story.
1. What does it mean to you to be a first-generation student?
Being a first-generation student means creating your own blueprint. The strive and potential are built into you because you want something better for your future. A saying that my grandmother has always told me growing up was, “Siempre sigue adelante y seas alguien en la vida,” which means that if you keep going, you’ll be successful in life. To this day, I’ve lived by this saying and have always strived to improve regardless of the challenges I may have encountered. Being a first-generation student at PWI challenged me in ways that made me seek out resources through programs like EOP, CSTEP, McNair, and many more. These programs have become my village here in Binghamton. They always help celebrate my accomplishments, regardless of how small or big. Being a first-generation student means I must persevere and overcome obstacles my family couldn’t or never encountered.
2. What programs and resources helped you during your undergraduate career?
LSAMP was the first program to allow me to do research. Under their guidance, I was accepted into an epidemiology lab where I was exposed to different branches of epidemiology. Being in this lab, I discovered my love for the biological and social aspects of epidemiology, leading to becoming a double major in Biology and Africana studies. As I continued in this lab, I was exposed to different research components and multiple networking opportunities. At the end of my time in this lab, I decided to become a triple major in Biology, Africana studies, and Public Health and obtain a Ph.D. in epidemiology with a specialty in Women’s Health in Cancer. Through programs like CSTEP and McNair, I joined a lab conducting research in triple-negative breast cancer 468 cells. This research experience has completely shaped my undergraduate career, mainly because I could conduct research in a field of interest. Triple-negative breast cancer is mainly found in women of color, and I intend to work in POC communities, bridging the gap between modern and traditional medicine. I’ve gained experience presenting research at various conferences and have had the opportunity to network with people who look like me and work in the field I intend to join. Harpur Edge, along with the Fleishman Center, has been one of my most significant resources for professional development, especially for mock interviews. Thanks to them, I’ve always felt prepared for an interview. I take advantage of all my resources because, in some shape or form, they will help me.
3. Are you involved in any extracurricular activities? If so, how have they shaped your college experience?
I am currently the president of the Synergetic Psi colony of Lambda Pi Upsilon sorority, Latinas Poderosas Unidas, Inc. Becoming a Hermana has helped me shape my dedication and motivation into topics that I am passionate about. Whether serving the community or being with my Hermanas, I feel welcomed and supported. I always struggled to feel included in Binghamton, and by becoming a Hermana, I was able to find a place to call home and create a safe for women of color on the Binghamton campus. I do everything with Love, Dignity, and Pride. I emphasize creating a safe space for women of color because I remember how I felt during my semester at Binghamton; I didn’t have any resources and did not feel like I was progressing. I’ve also created space for women by becoming part of PULSE, an organization that strives to Educate, Elevate, and Empower all women across the campus. I joined PULSE as their Historian for the Academic year 2022 – 2023 and have loved every second of it. I am the community service for the Binghamton Chapter of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO); this position allows me to always remember why I became a Hermana; to help and give back to the community. All my extracurricular activities will always involve helping or creating some impact in the community.
4. What advice would you give to fellow first-generation students?
My most extensive advice for first-generation students would be to make mistakes and learn from them. I came into college with the mindset that I had to be perfect and that I would always excel in school. However, high school is not college; I would get straight A’s without studying; in college, my typical week has 15 to 20 hours set aside solely for studying. Something that I learned as a STEM major is that my success is my success, nor how small or little. I compared my success to others, which only brought me down. It wasn’t until I realized I was the only person in the race who could excel in my class and environment. As first-gen students, we are raised with the mindset that everything has to be perfect when that’s not the case. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable because you can’t grow when you’re comfortable.
5. How has mentorship impacted your success as a first-generation student?
Mentorship has played an important role in my success as a first-generation student. I thank all programs like EOP, SSS, LSAMP, and McNair, who have helped me manage and stay on my college path. There have been many times when I wanted to give up, but the mentors I’ve found in these programs always encourage me to keep going because my goal is bigger than mine. These mentors care about not only my academic well-being but also my mental health, which is something that, as a first-generation student, I struggle to take into account. I’ve been blessed to have a public health mentor, Dr. Titilayo Okoror, who has guided me through all my endeavors. She has allowed me to research the social aspect of global public health and conduct research this summer in Ghana. Under her guidance, I observed the interactions between traditional modalities of health and healing systems and biomedical health systems, the meaning of spirituality, culture, and health in a global context, and the interaction of music, dance, and culture in West Africa, specifically in Ghana. All my mentors have helped me stay wholesome and always enlightened me with new opportunities and advancements.