Alumni Spotlight: Jen Petrella, class of 2017

Jen Petrella, former Penn State Brandywine student.

Jen Petrella, Penn State class of 2017. 

Credit: Michael McDade

MEDIA, Pa. — One year after graduating, Penn State alumna Jen Petrella is using her four-year degree to help fight cancer at the University of Pennsylvania.

Petrella began her Penn State career at the Brandywine campus, where she completed the first two years of her bachelor of science degree in biology. She then transitioned to the University Park campus, where she minored in plant pathology and environmental microbiology.

“All of my memories from starting at Brandywine are positive,” said Petrella. “Through getting involved, I believe I became more of a leader in and outside of the classroom.”

During her time at Brandywine, Petrella was a Lion Ambassador, an intern for the laboratory coordinator and captain of the cross country team. Along the way, her efforts were encouraged by professors and mentors on campus.

“I was not just a face in the crowd,” she said. “I feel like my professors, especially my science professors, held me to a high standard, which helped me to excel.”

One campus figure especially, former faculty member Mandy Gunlefinger, left an impression on Petrella while she was at Brandywine.

“She taught me to treat everyone with the same respect you would treat the head of the department with,” she said. “Whether someone is a department head, a custodian, or a peer in your class, everyone deserves that respect.”

When Petrella transitioned to the University Park campus, she brought her leadership skills and work ethic with her. She joined the ski club and started Blooms and Shrooms, an undergraduate organization focusing on plant pathology and outreach.

Today, as a Penn State graduate, Petrella continues to use her interest in biology and her leadership experience to better the lives of others. She currently works at the University of Pennsylvania as part of the microbiology team in quality control for the Clinical Cell and Vaccine Production Facility.

“We use cells from healthy donors or cells from the patients who have cancer to manufacture cells that help fight cancer,” she said.

Her department is currently running open trials with this technique to treat nine different illnesses, including myeloma, leukemia, lung cancer and HIV.

Petrella continues to serve others in her spare time as well, volunteering with One Act a Month, an organization in the Greater Philadelphia area that raises awareness about homelessness and inspires people to get more involved in their communities.

“I’m thankful for my educational journey because I don’t think I would have gained so much insight on how a laboratory works if I did not start as a Brandywine student and intern,” she said. “I was able to use my lab work and independent study experiences at Brandywine to work in my current position.”