Santina Cruz grew up listening to her older cousins—both Penn State alums—talking about how much they loved their school. So, when it was time to apply to graduate school she decided to research at Penn State’s chemistry program. When she learned that Penn State had one of the top graduate programs for research in chemistry in the country, she knew she had to apply.
In the end, her choice came down to two schools. But, after visiting Penn State’s campus, she knew that it was the place for her. However, Cruz wasn’t just drawn to the University’s status as a top research school or it’s state-of-the-art facilities. The friendly, welcoming chemistry community at Penn State stood out to her, as did the State College community. “I could live a more comfortable life in State College,” Cruz explains, noting that the safety and affordability offered by the town were important considerations for her.
Cruz is now a Ph.D. student conducting research in Dr. Ben Lear’s lab. Her work focuses on changing the surface chemistry of metallic nanoparticles using a novel technique called conduction electron spin resonance. The group studies how these changes impact the electronic structure of the nanoparticles.
Although Cruz came to the Department of Chemistry in search of excellent research opportunities, she says that the department’s desire to constantly improve is what makes it special. “The department is very open to self-reflection.” Cruz explains, noting that the department is always open to suggestions from all members of the chemistry community. “There’s a commitment to making positive, impactful change,” she adds, “the department is always looking for ways to improve the climate for students and staff.”
This culture of inclusivity is particularly appealing to Cruz, who works hard to create positive change on campus. Outside of the lab, Cruz is active in the University community. She is currently serving her third year as the treasurer for Graduate Women in Science, an organization that works to build a global community to inspire, support, recognize, and empower women in science. Cruz is also the president of the Chemistry Graduate Student Association at Penn State. Additionally, she sits on the departmental Climate & Diversity Committee and organizes the Lion Lectures, which is a series of informal lectures that gives other grad students a chance to practice presenting a talk. She also mentors graduate and undergraduate students in Dr. Lear’s lab.
For her efforts to create a positive environment within the department and the University, Cruz was awarded the department’s Student Services Award in 2018, an achievement she is very proud of. Her advisor, Dr. Lear, nominated her for the award. He noted, “Santina exhibits a selfless and sustained commitment to improving the life of others...I truly believe she is an exceptional example of a good community citizen.”
Cruz advises graduate students who are considering coming to Penn State to think about the sort of community that they want to have around them during their time in graduate school. “Think about the home you’re going to be building for yourself,” she says, “think about the people you’re going to surround yourself with. I’ve had life changing experiences at Penn State. This is a really supportive environment; you don’t realize until you’re in graduate school how much you need those supportive people on tough days. I’ve found that supportive group here.”
In her free time, Cruz enjoys going to the gym, reading, baking, shopping, attending sporting events, and spending time with her family.