Doctoral student in College of Agricultural Sciences creates global connections

October 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a de la Torre Scholar in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Terry Torres-Cruz aspires to foster relationships between the college and Latin America by sharing her connections and experiences.

“I am proud to have been selected for this award and to tell students from my country about the amazing opportunities to learn about agriculture and sustainability at Penn State,” said Torres-Cruz, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, who hails from San José, Costa Rica.

Torres-Cruz, whose research focuses on fungi, last year became a de la Torre Scholar, an endowed award established by Penn State alumnus Jose de la Torre and administered by the college’s Office of International Programs.

The fund provides financial assistance to Penn State graduate students from Latin America. In return, recipients are asked to help the Office of International Programs with a project to advance the college’s linkages in the hemisphere.

For her scholarship project, Torres-Cruz worked with Paul Esker, assistant professor of epidemiology and field crop pathology, and Melanie Miller-Foster, assistant professor of international agriculture, to develop the embedded course, “INTAD 820: International Agriculture and Development Seminar,” a requirement of the dual-degree International Agriculture and Development graduate program.

de la Torre Scholar

Terry Torres-Cruz, a de la Torre Scholar in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, second from left in the middle row, poses at the Nittany Lion Shrine with other students from David Geiser’s lab in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. From left, back row, are Benedicta Swalarsk-Parry and Shawn Chang. In the middle row are Jane Ramaswe, Torres Cruz, Emma Wallace and David Geiser. In front are Daniela Chacon, who, like Torres-Cruz, is from Costa Rica, and Chyanna McGee. 

IMAGE: Penn State

Students in the course traveled to Costa Rica over last year’s spring break; learned about the Costa Rican agricultural system; and met with researchers, farmers and government officials. Torres-Cruz served as an in-country guide and interpreter, answering students’ questions about the country and culture of Costa Rica. She also assisted with technical and scientific translations.

Research visits focused on a variety of crops including yams, cacao and banana. Other visits included Bayer's cotton seed facility and a coffee farm. A representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service also addressed the group.

As part of the experience, Torres-Cruz planned an exchange between the Penn State delegation and students and faculty at her alma mater, Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica. INTAD students and faculty interacted with their peers and gave presentations on the opportunities available at Penn State.

Torres-Cruz also gave a presentation in which she described the trajectory of her academic journey, which began at the Cartago-based university as an undergraduate studying biotechnology engineering.

She shared her path to pursuing graduate studies in plant pathology in the U.S., highlighting the opportunities available and how to best connect with them. Her story resonated with several of the students at Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, including Daniela Chacón, who is pursuing studies in biotechnology engineering. “I never considered the possibility of studying overseas, especially in the U.S, until I heard Terry’s story,” Chacón said.

“I was excited to learn about the academic opportunities and that scholarships were available. I spoke with my professors and my parents, and they were supportive of my decision to visit Penn State.”

Chacón now is visiting the University Park campus for three months to conduct research to fulfill thesis requirements for finishing her undergraduate degree at Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, with plans to pursue graduate studies. She works in the same research lab as Torres-Cruz.

“At Penn State, I am learning new technologies and expanding my knowledge,” Chacón said. “The faculty and students, especially Terry, have been amazing and welcoming. I love it here.”

Miller-Foster, who coordinates the INTAD program, is pleased that students such as Torres-Cruz and Chacón are realizing the intentions of the de la Torre Scholars program.

“Dr. de la Torre intended for the endowment to create new and lasting connections with countries in Latin America,” she said. “Terry has fulfilled this mission by creating a wonderful opportunity for INTAD students traveling to Costa Rica, as well as showing Daniela the path to conducting research at Penn State.”

Torres-Cruz hopes that more students from other countries, especially Latin America, will broaden their horizons by studying abroad, especially at Penn State.

“Penn State provides opportunities in every area I can think of — research, grants, scholarships, professional opportunities, leadership skills and student life,” said Torres-Cruz, who hopes to conduct research for a government agency. She is on track to earn her doctoral degree from the University in 2021.

“I want to unlock the science of fungi and have a better understanding of how they relate to ecosystems and the environment. My experiences at Penn State are providing me with the foundation to achieve that dream.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 24, 2019