College student wearing lab coat in college laboratory.

PSU-LV’s biobehavioral health program sets student on the right career track

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Driven by an innate curiosity and interest in science, Jonathan Perez always knew he would pursue a career in a STEM-related field.

He originally planned to major in biology. When he discovered the various pathways chosen by biobehavioral health (BBH) majors at Penn State Lehigh Valley (PSU-LV), he rethought his strategy.

He decided to pursue the program after speaking with Samantha Beebe, program coordinator and lecturer in biobehavioral health, at an open house.

“I spoke to her on the phone during my senior year of high school when I was still considering schools,” he said. “This was during COVID, so I couldn’t visit the campus. I was looking at other schools and considering biology but wanted something broader. Dr. Beebe told me about the BBH program and how it combines biology, psychology and other STEM fields. That, and the focus on both private and public health, really drew me in. That’s what really attracted me.”

Early on, Perez knew he’d made the right choice. “When I started this major, I knew I’d hit the nail on the head. I chose PSU-LV for the campus and because of the major.”

Now a senior, Perez is planning for his next chapter. He set his sights on physician assistant (PA) school even before he started the BBH program. He’s been accepted into graduate school to continue his studies. He credits PSU-LV and the BBH program for giving him the foundational knowledge he needs to advance in his professional career.

“This program exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I wouldn’t have chosen anything else. I’m definitely glad I pursued this major — I received the broad foundation I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise.”

Perez advises any student who is undecided on their path, but interested in a program like BBH, to “be open-minded.”

“The health field is very broad,” he said. “One thing this major has taught me — the classes are all a little similar because they are health-based, yet very different in the focus areas. I’ve had classes in women’s health and global health, for instance. Even if I wasn’t that interested in the topic at first, by the end, I found it interesting. Just be open to learning.”

Perez’s additional words of advice are aimed at potential students looking at a STEM-related major.

“The BBH program is great for anyone interested in the science field at all, but especially if you are looking to pursue a health career,” Perez said. “This major provides a real advantage over a ‘typical’ science major.”

Perez had to complete admissions interviews for some of the graduate schools he applied to and said he felt prepared.

“I’ve been able to answer questions really well because the information was covered in my classes,” he said. “Underserved communities, racial disparities — they are big topics in health right now, and my courses in the BBH program address those topics, so it’s been helpful to know and understand that material.”

Besides the material itself, Perez has found tremendous value in the small campus and class sizes at PSU-LV. Both have allowed him to work closely with faculty and pursue research interests.

“You really get to know your professors here, and with lots of options for research, you can put what you’ve learned into a real-world opportunity,” he said. “It’s a very diverse major that can help people choose their career path if they don’t already have one. I have a few friends who chose their career path because of what they liked learning about most in the program.”

Click here for more information about the biobehavioral health major.