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Student's passion drives her to pursue unique double major in biology and film
12 November 2019
Natalie Ruiz and friend

Senior Natalie Ruiz-Pérez, right, has combined her love of science and passion for storytelling to pursue a double major in biology and film-video.

A love for science and a passion for storytelling have inspired one Penn State student to bridge the gap between scientific communities and the public through film.

Natalie Ruiz-Pérez’s freshman elective, COMM 150 The Art of Cinema, introduced the then-biology major to the world of film and her passion to participate in it. After taking two more film courses to test her interest, Ruiz-Perez declared a second major in film-video and now, as a senior, she explores the intersection of creative narratives and scientific discovery.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ruiz-Pérez said one of the reasons she chose Penn State was the wide variety of courses, along with the campus greenery that reminded her of home. Penn State’s general education program and array of colleges on campus have afforded her the opportunity to explore her two vastly different interests.

Though her advisers knew of no one who had majored in both film-video and biology before, Ruiz-Pérez said they supported her in pursuing both degrees. This lack of predecessors has motivated the senior in her pursuit ever since.

“I’m trying to show others, if there’s any other students interested, that this is possible,” she said. “It’s not crazy.”

Bellisario Backstories will focus on stories featuring Bellisario College of Communications students, faculty and alumni. This episode focuses on one Penn State student, Natalie Ruiz-Pérez, who is bridging the gap between scientific methods and creative storytelling. Credit: Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications

Ruiz-Pérez has already found professional opportunities to combine her skills and interests. She worked as a social media and video production intern for Showtime Networks and Smithsonian Channel this past summer. Ruiz-Pérez was thrilled when her supervisors told her they were looking for students like her, with a background in both fields. That validated her premise that there were jobs existing at the intersection of her majors.

In her intern role, Ruiz-Pérez found herself more excited and engaged than she had previously been working in a neuroscience lab. Balancing a diverse task list for Smithsonian, which included vetting scientific materials, translating content to Spanish or researching Spanish-speaking communities, Ruiz-Pérez had to put the skills learned from her busy academic schedule to use when she was also tasked with a final presentation for Showtime leadership.

“I was already used to managing different things at the same time,” Ruiz-Pérez said. “I guess that was like a show-what-you-got kind of moment.”

Since returning to campus, Ruiz-Pérez has remained active in improving her film expertise through an internship with Boaz Dvir, an assistant professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and an award-winning filmmaker. She is working on a variety of projects with him — helping to edit audio, providing notes on different scripts and revamping social media.

Ruiz-Pérez is looking to gain documentary experience in her new role, aligning with her eventual career goals to share new discoveries and important information for people about their bodies, the environment and different species in a more engaging way. She also is excited to gain even more experience in the spring, when she travels to Greece as part of the embedded course COMM 437 Advanced Documentary Production.

Putting these technical skills into action with her passion for science, Ruiz-Pérez believes scientific media can be more exciting for the public with less focus on the scientific process and more of a storytelling approach.

“Something like that I think is empowering,” she said, comparing her desire to combine entertainment and science to the work of Bill Nye. “It just moves more people to learn more about stuff, but I also feel like it reaches more people.”

A dual-major and hands-on internship are not the only things keeping Ruiz-Pérez busy on campus. She also serves as the historian and social media manager for the Puerto Rican Student Association. Before graduating in December 2020, Ruiz-Pérez said she plans to focus her extra energy toward improving the club’s social media and growing their involvement in THON.

Though she may be far from Puerto Rico, Ruiz-Pérez has a bit of home with her in State College. Her younger siblings, Kamille (freshman-biology) and Diego (junior-engineering) are also on campus. With two cousins having graduated from Penn State as well, Ruiz-Pérez’s family has begun creating a legacy for themselves in Happy Valley — one she has certainly made unique.