Ag Journeys

“I came for an education. I found a network for life.”

Melissa Elena Mercado

Hometown: Hayward, CA

Demographic information: Mexican American, female in STEM, adult learner, first-generation college student

Minor: Plant Pathology

Graduate research: Plant Pathology

Good at: research, critical thinking, photography, backpacking, mushroom identifying, crocheting, role-player gaming, legacy building, ice cream tasting, cat whispering, friendship

“Research, from day one.”

Why did Melissa Mercado travel 3,000 miles to Penn State?

“One of the main reasons I transferred to Penn State from my university in California was the amazing research opportunities for undergrads.”

Polymerase chain reactions. DNA extraction. Bacterial pathogenicity. You can study those ideas in a lecture hall, with a textbook, anywhere.

But at Penn State, she learned it hands on by conducting research that will make a difference for the world of science and, well, the world. Some of her work involved finding better, healthier, more efficient ways to grow mushrooms and lettuce.

“I am surrounded by forests and fields.”

At Penn State, step out of the classroom and into the greatest laboratory in the world—the Pennsylvania wilds, a hive of agricultural activity in every direction.

“Whenever I’m hiking, I’m on the lookout for mushrooms.”

“At Penn State, I learned that curiosity is a muscle that must be exercised.”

“I didn't start in science. I started in photography.”

"I thought plants were beautiful and fascinating. The closer I looked the more curious I became. Penn State has taught me that plants are far more beautiful than I ever could have imagined."

“No matter who you were when you came here, you can do this.”

Exploration and Discovery

Penn State culture is all about exploration and discovery.

“I always wanted to learn to crochet, but it stopped at actually, you know, doing something about it. Freshman year changed all that. ‘I don’t know’ is what got me moving. I watched videos and taught myself. Now I teach others.”

“I came for an education. I found a network for life.”

There is no competition among my lab partners. Zero.

"We are here to push each other and help each other. I came for Agaricus bisporus, but the most important genus and species I discovered was Homo sapiens. These aren’t just classmates. These are my friends for life.”

“In the lab, things rarely turn out how you’d expect.”

“If you just look at a science fact in a textbook, it’s all cut and dried. Sterile. By doing research, I’ve come to understand how hard won every bit of knowledge is. In the lab, things rarely turn out how you'd expect. But every failure opens new questions. With failure we move forward.”