My Road to Commencement: Carolina Hernández

Carolina Hernandez holds certificates and awards

Carolina Hernández holds awards she received, including the Athletic Service Award for fundraising efforts she organized with the Alzheimer’s Association, her letterman for being an athlete for four years, and awards for being inducted into the athletic honor society and being an Student Athlete Leadership Council member.

Credit: Carolina Hernandez

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Carolina Hernández, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, will receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology as part of the Penn State Harrisburg Class of 2024. Here she shares her journey through higher education:

“Living in Puerto Rico, I faced many hardships as my life went by. It all started when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017 and left my family and I without water for 3 months and without power for a year. This moment truly shaped my character, forcing me to grow up to face the challenges presented before me and help my family. I remember going to school without power, having to bring a portable fan with me and taking classes in the dark. This made me lose my sophomore year of high school as we all recovered both emotionally and physically. Then tragedy struck again in 2019 when my island was rocked with earthquakes. We were forced again to miss school out of fear of an earthquake collapsing the structure around us as so many other schools had already fallen. And when we finally came back to school there were so many new protocols and daily drills that school became terrifying to attend. Finally, this chaos cleared up and then came the pandemic, ending my senior year of high school early and limiting my first years of college.

"Yet throughout all these struggles all I could dream about was my future, coming to the mainland United States to further my education. This process taught me how to be adaptable and be independent. I faced a lot of challenges when I first moved, especially getting used to my new environment and living by myself for the first time. However, my perseverance and dedication to my goal is what helped me reach this point of my life. I am never one to give up on anything, and I worked to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. This is what led me to build all the connections I currently have."

"The main reason I chose Penn State Harrisburg was because I wanted to be part of a large institution with a small school feel. I wanted access to all the resources of Penn State but with the friendly feel of Harrisburg where I know everyone and my professors know me. In the end, Penn State Harrisburg became my family. I always felt welcome and embraced on campus. I became a member of the Latino Club and I built deep connections with people from around the world. These people became my second family and helped me get through my college career."

"I was able to work for almost every department on campus, acquiring loads of experience and knowledge along the way. I gained mentors and relationships that I will hold for the rest of my life. Penn State Harrisburg taught me responsibility and gave me the experience I needed to acquire a full-time position before even graduating. I also learned time management skills as I balanced being a student-athlete, holding multiple jobs at the same time, being part of the theater program (musical ‘Cabaret’), being a speaker in the community and holding positions off campus on top of my studies. This was tricky to maneuver but my perseverance again pushed me to complete everything. Overall, Penn State Harrisburg became my home."

"I chose to study psychology because I want to work with dementia patients and their families in the future. My motivation comes from the death of my grandmother from Alzheimer’s disease when I was in high school. Attending Penn State Harrisburg gave me the connections necessary to work towards this goal. Being the speaker at the Board of Advisers meeting provided me with an internship opportunity with Country Meadows Retirement Communities, working one-on-one with dementia patients. In addition, as a member of the Capital College Honors Program I was able to complete my senior thesis in testing the “Effects of Audio-Visual Stimuli on the Memory of Dementia Patients.” Lastly, my greatest achievement while in college was organizing several different events to bring awareness for Alzheimer’s disease including two AlzTogether matches culminating with an Alzheimer’s Awareness Walk. These experiences further broadened my expertise in preparation for my future career."

"After graduation I will be working full-time for Northwestern University’s Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease as a research study assistant. I am very excited to continue my work with dementia patients and put into practice all the lessons I learned at Penn State Harrisburg.”