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Graduating senior awarded for unprecedented leadership, research efforts

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Photo Courtesy of Chandler Prude

Texas State awarded the Sallie Beretta Outstanding Senior Woman Award at this year’s graduation ceremony to a prominent undergraduate focused on advancing medical science.

Recent Texas State alumna, Erica Osta, graduated last month with several honors including The Sallie Beretta Outstanding Senior Woman Award. This Texas State award is presented to one female graduate who displays exemplary leadership, scholarship, character, potential and loyalty. University President Denise M. Trauth presented Osta the award for Osta’s four years as an excellent student, mentor, tutor and researcher.

Osta graduated with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and spent her undergraduate career researching cost effective methods of disease detection under Dr. Shannon Weigum. Osta began working with Weigum during her second year at Texas State, and their research has been well received by the scientific community. Osta’s research has been presented at multiple conferences including two national research conferences in recent years.

Weigum described Osta as a rare undergraduate who truly grasped the importance and holistic intent of their study.  In May, Texas State created a video highlighting Osta’s study and her venture to be a pioneer of science.

Osta said research is important to her on a personal level. While disease detection is a broad field, Osta’s research is geared toward countries with healthcare deficits like her home country of Venezuela.

Although a figure of academic excellence today, Osta said her educational journey had a rocky start. Having immigrated to the United States from Venezuela at the age of 15, Osta said she initially felt a lot of resistance in certain aspects of American culture.

“I remember being in high school once, and some kid heard me speak in Spanish and he said: ‘Go back to Mexico! Cross the border, go back to where you came from,’” Osta said.

Rather than becoming discouraged, moments like this solidified Osta’s determination to excel.

Megan Krou, a first-year doctoral student, worked alongside Osta at Texas State’s Student Learning Assistance Center. Krou said Osta worked as a constant encourager to students who came for tutoring.

“She is always concerned with making sure the students walk away feeling empowered,” Krou said.

Themes of perseverance and resilience are apparent throughout Osta’s education.

“I took the SAT three times and the ACT once, and I was just met with failure by these standardized tests and the education system,” Osta said.

After immigrating to the United States, Osta said she had to work twice as hard in class compared to her previous school due to the language barrier and other cultural changes.

“I remember being a straight-A student back home, but here—I failed my first Algebra test,” Osta said. “I failed it because I did not know what the word ’slope’ translated to.”

Despite setbacks, Osta felt a sense of social responsibility in her educational pursuit, she knew she had a rare opportunity to strive for excellence. Osta said she believes women and minorities face heightened adversity in professional fields and hopes her story can inspire others to do the same despite challenges.

“We are at a standardized disadvantage, unfortunately, and in order for our work to be noticed, to be acknowledged and respected, we may have to do and put in an extra amount of work,” Osta said.

Osta shared a particular incident of experiencing prejudice at a research initiative at Duke University.

“There were four men in this project, white men, and I was not only the youngest one, I was the immigrant and I was the girl,” Osta said.

Osta experienced lab partners who wanted to take over, working in labs as the only woman and instances where she felt almost powerless, but she continued to prove her capabilities each and every time.

Despite having been underestimated by her peers, Osta took the opportunity to redefine preconceived notions. Toward the end of Osta’s research at Duke, she taught a doctoral student and two peers in the lab how to carry out a protocol she made, one of her proudest moments.

Osta continues to strive for excellence. During Osta’s undergraduate application process, Texas State was the only university to accept her.

Today, Osta is one of only five applicants to be admitted into the rigorous UT Health Science Center in San Antonio’s Doctorate of Medicine and Philosophy Program. There, Osta will continue breaking glass ceilings and researching life-saving methods.