Alumni Spotlight: Barbara Chen, class of 2017

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After graduating from North Penn in 2017, Chen is making the most out of her college life.

Class of 2017 graduate Barbara Chen found her love for biology working at the lab benches at North Penn. She received a four-year full-tuition scholarship to West Chester University where she is currently a junior.

“Mr. Snyder’s AP Biology class was one of my favorite classes at North Penn. His enthusiasm for the subject and willingness to help his students provided a safe learning environment that made me excited about biology as well. I enjoyed the hands-on experiments and dissections and especially loved learning the basics of cellular processes and molecular genetics,” said Chen.

She decided it was the right school for her because it was close by and in her financial range. She was also interested in their biology program and alumni network. 

“Staying close to family during college was important to me, and being just a short one-hour drive away from home was another reason why I chose WCU. I knew I didn’t want to live in a crowded metropolitan area, but I still wanted to have access to concert venues and events only available in the city. The campus and town of West Chester were so beautiful and only one hour away from Philly,” explained Chen.

While she was at North Penn, Chen was involved in Mock Trial, Wind Ensemble, Chinese Cultural Club, and National Honor Society. 

During her senior year, she had the opportunity to travel to Waikiki, Hawaii with the NPHS Concert Band to perform at the 75th Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade. 

“Going to Hawaii with some of my best friends for a whole week without parental supervision was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had,” said Chen.

She also had the chance to perform at the 2017 talent show. 

“It was my first time singing in front of a crowd bigger than 20 people, so it was a big moment for me. I was so touched by all of the friends that came to the show to support me,” said Chen.

With her deep curiosity about how living things work and operate, Chen decided to study biology. She majors in Cell and Molecular Biology and minors in Applied Ethics and Psychology. 

Currently, she does research in one of the biology faculty research labs at West Chester. Her current project is investigating the immune systems of C. Elegans or roundworms. 

“We’re looking at a virus that suppresses their immune systems and trying to understand which genes and proteins are involved in that immune suppression. My research involves a lot of looking at little worms under a microscope and sometimes making them fluoresce different colors. It’s so much fun to look at adorable glowy worms, but also to be investigating a question that I don’t already know the answer to. I found that prior to college, for most experiments, I already knew the supposed outcome. However, through doing my own research, I’ve learned that doing science is really about objectively looking at your results and trying to understand the truth of what is really happening. It’s an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience,” said Chen.

In addition to doing research, Chen leads an organization on West Chester’s campus called Bridges International, which is a faith-based organization focused on serving and forming social connections with international students. At the organization, she meets students from countries like Japan, Peru, and Cote d’Ivoire.

“I absolutely love learning about different cultures and connecting with people with a different perspective than myself. It is so rewarding to be able to plan fun events for these students and help them adjust to life in the US. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to meet and make lifelong friends with students from all over the world,” said Chen.

So far, Chen is loving her college experience. West Chester University has given her many opportunities such as obtaining her EMT certification and volunteering at a local ambulance station. Additionally, she had the experience of being an intern at leading pharmaceutical companies where she had the chance to participate in the drug discovery and development process. Her passion for music has also been brought along with her as she sings and plays guitar on the campus ministry worship team.

As for the future, her plan post-graduation is to take some time off from school to work in a research lab, and she hopes to eventually go back to graduate school.

Favorite part about life after high school

“I definitely do not take for granted the luxury of waking up at 9 AM now instead of 6 AM. I like that there is more freedom in college compared to high school to make my own schedule and use my time how I want. I have also really enjoyed apartment living with my best friends. Hanging out with friends is so much more convenient when you live with them.”

What do you miss about North Penn?

“It sounds cliché, but what I miss most about North Penn is the people. I miss the friends I can no longer see on a daily basis and the amazing teachers, who deserve all the credit for providing me with a great education. I also miss spirit days, events like homecoming and Garba, and watching the North Penn Marching Band perform at football games. It’s truly amazing how they can play their instruments so well while simultaneously moving into complex, intricate formations.”

Advice to High Schoolers:

“I would encourage high schoolers to seek out new experiences and talk to people from different career fields. Connecting with people and asking questions is the best way to learn about different careers and will help you begin to figure out what you may want, or not want, to do. And later on, who you know becomes really important when searching for internships and job opportunities, oftentimes even more so than what you know. Also, don’t sweat the small stuff. It can be easy to be overcome with anxiety when confronted with challenges like big tests or presentations. The truth is, one bad grade will not make or break you in the long run. The only thing you can do is give everything your best effort, and let the pieces fall where they may. You will end up where you’re supposed to.”