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Natalia Rojas

May 2015

When Natalia Rojas-Valois finished high school in Miami, Florida, she knew one thing: she wanted to go far away from home.

“I knew if I stayed home, I would become too dependent on my mother,” Rojas-Valois said. “I needed to go away.”

First, Rojas-Valois found herself on another continent. Through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, she worked and studied in Germany for one year. Her experience included two months at a language school in Munich followed by an internship at a hotel in Bad Vilbel while she attended a vocational school for hotel management in Frankfurt.

After completing the program, Rojas-Valois was ready to enroll in an American university. She chose Penn State partly because it was away from home and partly because Penn State has one of the most respected hospitality management programs in the country.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) studying a wide-array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Rojas-Valois, who found a home in the School of Hospitality Management (SHM), is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

“I feel like my personality is why I chose to study hospitality management,” Rojas-Valois said. “I like to take care of people. I like to make sure their needs are tended to and that they’re comfortable. It’s something that I like to do without even thinking about it. It just comes naturally to me.”

Working and studying in Germany for one year helped prepare Rojas-Valois for her academic experience at Penn State. It helped eliminate the stress she used to feel over every single assignment and an overwhelming desire to earn perfect marks.

“It changed my perspective,” she said. “I am here to get an education and to do well, but I don’t have to beat myself up over one poor grade because in the grand scheme of things the education I’m getting here is a good one, and if I just try my best and put the effort in I’m going to do well.”

Growing up in a Hispanic community in Miami, Rojas-Valois’ experience in Germany and State College, Pennsylvania, also gave her an opportunity to experience different cultures, people, climates and landscapes.

“It has made me be more understanding about where people come from and taught me not to judge others,” she said.

To gain additional hands-on experience, Rojas-Valois interned in the food and beverage department at the James Royal Palm in Miami for a summer. She is slated to intern at the front office of a Miami hotel in the summer of 2015.

Rojas-Valois is also a member of the Penn State Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team. She gives tours to prospective students and explains why she “fell in love immediately” with Penn State and University Park.

“The school spirit is amazing,” she said. “Everyone here is so proud to be a Penn Stater and everyone here wants to see you succeed.”

In addition to hospitality management, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Human Development and Family Studies, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management. Learn more about HHD.