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From Professional Soccer Player to Aspiring Surgeon

How One Recent Grad Pursued Both Research and Athletics
8 June 2022
Abello in Penn State polo shirt

Kerry Abello may just be the definition of “goals” when it comes to being a student-athlete. Penn State sports fans will be most familiar with Abello’s success as a forward, midfielder, and defender on the soccer pitch. The Batavia, Illinois, native was a two-time captain of the four-time Big Ten champion Penn State women’s soccer team, was named to the All-Big Ten Team three times, was a Senior CLASS Award All-American, and a recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The fall 2021 graduate has also gone on to be the first Penn State women’s soccer player to be named the CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year in 2021, an award that recognizes both athletic and academic achievement. 

When she’s not training, Abello can be found working on her academics or doing biomedical research. The Schreyer Scholar, who double majored in Spanish and science. was recently named as the fall 2021 student marshal for the College of the Liberal Arts.  

“I chose Penn State because I wanted to go to a school with top-notch academics and an elite soccer program,” she said. “Penn State has both, but what ultimately separated it from the rest was the culture. It was a no-brainer for me to apply to Eberly. Science is my greatest passion alongside soccer, and I knew whatever I chose to study at Penn State it would be in science!”         

Since 2018, Abello has worked on two projects under the guidance of Justin Pritchard, assistant professor of bioengineering. The first was a genetic engineering experiment that explored the evolutionary ancestry of a type of proteins called kinases, which are known to be involved in various cancers and other diseases. The second was a meta-analysis of scientific literature regarding the experimentation and repurposing of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), substances that block the activity of tyrosine kinases and that are used as drugs to treat various cancers today. Abello explained that her interest in biomedical engineering stems from her love of biology, and that she hopes to one day be a doctor.  

“I was especially interested in the Pritchard lab because they conduct cancer cell research, which is an incredible area of modern research and something I wanted to learn more about and get involved in,” she said. 

From the time she started at Penn State, Abello knew she wanted to do undergraduate research to gain experience and challenge herself. She credits Scott Leighow, a graduate student in the Pritchard Lab, for mentoring her in conducting biomedical engineering research. 

Between soccer and school, Abello admits that it sometimes feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, yet she finds the path that she’s chosen to be more fun and rewarding than she could have expected. She even made time to dance in THON 2020, a highlight of her Penn State experience. When asked to give advice on how to balance time for other prospective student-athletes in the sciences, Abello says to focus on one’s own path. 

“You can do it regardless of what anyone else says,” she said. “Whatever you choose to do in science, stay the course, and focus on yourself. There were so many people that discouraged me from studying science while playing a sport in college, and the reality is that there aren’t too many student-athletes in science. However, I studied what I wanted regardless and stayed on my own path, and I am so proud and happy that I did. Surround yourself with students and student-athletes with common goals and don’t look back!” 


Fans of Abello will be able to follow her professional soccer career with the Orlando Pride soccer team in Florida. Following her retirement from soccer, Abello plans to attend medical school. “ 


I’m looking forward to pursuing being an orthopedic surgeon after I hang up the cleats,” she said.