Brandywine Student Spotlight: Cortez Catalano

Cortez wearing a blue Brandywine shirt smiling in front of plants

Cortez Catalano is a first-year biology student at Penn State Brandywine.

Credit: Penn State Brandywine Center for Social Impact

Major: Biology

Year: First

Involvement: Co-vice president of Sustainability Club; intern at the Center for Social Impact; undergraduate researcher for Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin

Brandywine: Why did you choose Penn State Brandywine?

Catalano: Well, there were a couple of different things that factored into my decision of choosing Penn State Brandywine. I think one of the main ones is I'm the eldest of five siblings. They're all in middle school and high school now, and I still wanted to stay in their lives. Penn State Brandywine is close to them — it's only an hour away from where I live, so I can go visit them on the weekends.

Brandywine: How did you choose your major?

Catalano: I've just always enjoyed biology. I loved my advanced placement biology class in high school. I also love marine science, and one of the things that I'm considering doing with a biology degree is going into marine science.

Brandywine: What challenges have you faced at Brandywine, if any?

Catalano: Well, I think I've been fortunate enough to not face any really difficult challenges, but I’ve faced some challenges with just getting adjusted to college and having to learn to live in a dorm and with a roommate. More academically, a challenge that I faced when I first came here was, I really wanted to get involved in undergraduate research, and I needed to find a professor that would take me on. Professor Guertin took me on to do undergraduate research with her. It’s been really nice.

Brandywine: How has Penn State Brandywine supported you, and who at Brandywine has supported you the most?

Catalano: I think that there are so many people that have supported me at Penn State Brandywine. Vippy Yee (former Rosenberg director for the Center for Social Impact) was a major supporter when she was at Brandywine, and Professor Guertin has been a great supporter as well. She's served as my mentor, helping me figure out what I want to do within biology and how I want to interact with ocean science.

Brandywine: What made you interested in getting involved at the Center for Social Impact?

Catalano: On my second day of college, I volunteered at the Tyler Arboretum to build a path for their butterfly exhibit. While I was there, Vippy told me about the Center. I wanted to get involved in the community and give back, and I thought getting involved with the Center was an excellent way to do that. 

Brandywine: What are you currently working on at the Center?

Catalano: I do a lot of stuff with the food pantry. So right now, I'm working on increasing the inventory of the food pantry. Another student at the Center, Benjamin Keller, and I are working on getting recently expired food from the cafeteria put into the food pantry — food that can’t be sold anymore but is still safe to eat.

Brandywine: What projects and events have you taken part in for the Center? Which one was your favorite and why?

Catalano: I've done a lot of stuff with the Center. One of the more frequent events that I help run is the voter registration drives. But I think that my favorite was probably leading a TEDx Circle with Gracie Guerin. I think the reason why that was my favorite event is just because I got to really focus on something that I'm passionate about, which is conservation. It helped me blend both my work and also my interest in marine science.

Brandywine: With the extracurricular activities you’re involved in, how have they impacted your time on campus?

Catalano: They’ve really helped me get involved and feel like I belong at Penn State Brandywine. I don't think that I would feel as strong a sense of community if I hadn't done this many extracurriculars. I think also another way that they've impacted my time besides just building a sense of community is also it helps with my enrichment. It helps with my academic experience and learning because I can take the skills that I've learned inside the classroom and apply them to my research, or take ideas and apply them to projects that we're doing at the Center.

Brandywine: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned at Brandywine?

Catalano: I think the most valuable lesson I've learned, and also this was just something that I struggled with in high school, was that it's okay to approach professors and people that are older than you to ask for help and try to get involved. I was always afraid to do that in high school, but I've become a lot more comfortable with that now that I'm here at Penn State Brandywine.

I can take the skills that I've learned inside the classroom and apply them to my research, or take ideas and apply them to projects that we're doing at the Center.

—Cortez Catalano , first-year biology major, Penn State Brandywine