Growing up alongside her grandparents, Samantha Cueto (N ‘24) developed a soft spot for the geriatric population. Now a senior at the School of Nursing, Samantha has dedicated her time at college toward conducting extensive research supporting the elderly. She has particularly enjoyed spearheading a community–based intervention aimed at increasing physical activity among Hispanic elderly individuals with dementia or cognitive impairment. When she’s not helping elderly patients at local hospitals and clinics or uncovering medical breakthroughs in the research labs, she’s playing Dungeons & Dragons with Penn Tabletop Club, practicing Japanese, or watching horror movies with her friends. Samatha’s positive energy radiates as she expresses her gratitude to her friends, the people that have undoubtedly made her Penn experience. 

Name: Samantha Cueto 

Hometown: Union City, NJ

Major: Nursing 

Minor: Global Health, East Asian Languages and Civilizations (Japanese concentration) 

Activities: Minorities in Nursing Organization, Penn Tabletop, Penn First Plus, Research with Kathryn H. Bowles, Research with Adriana Perez, Research with George Demiris, Research with Nancy A. Hodgson, Research with Maya N. Clark–Cutaia, TA for Jianghong Liu

What inspired you to apply to Nursing?

When I was a senior in high school, we had to do a bunch of volunteer hours. Initially, I didn't think that I would go into nursing because my mom is a nurse and I was always like, “I don’t want to do what my mom does.” But, I ended up volunteering at an elderly care center. For background, I feel like my grandparents had a really big part in raising me, so I've always had a soft spot for the geriatric population. My time volunteering at the elderly care center included helping the people with activities of daily living, assisting them with eating, having conversations with them, and working with the nurses. I also talked to the nurses about why they began their careers. In high school I really loved science, but I'm also a pretty sociable person. So I wanted a career where I'd be talking to people and not one where I’d be behind a desk all day. I also didn't want to go to medical school for seven years. That’s a long time! When I visited Penn, I spoke to the admissions director of Nursing. She explained that there's so many career paths for nursing such as midwifery and pediatrics. Talking to her really helped me zone in on that and I decided to look into nursing.

How has your interest in the geriatric population influenced your research at Penn? 

I've done tons of research at Penn. I'm super detail–oriented and I like working on these projects and seeing them slowly build up. Since freshman year I've always held around two to three jobs and have tried to do as many research opportunities as I could. I've always loved working with these professors and doing various projects. 

A lot of my research focuses on elderly people. For example, I worked for Dr. George Demiris for one summer and I was able to talk to researchers in Japan about the technology they are building for elderly people. Right now, I'm working with Dr. Kathryn H. Bowles and I go into the hospital and talk to patients with Sepsis. I interview them for about an hour and talk to them about their experiences having Sepsis. I like doing research because you really get to see the gaps in the current healthcare system and also make a direct impact on people. 

I also worked with Dr. Adriana Perez and her research left a big impact on me. It was my target population, the elderly population, but specifically, we worked with Hispanic elderly individuals with dementia or cognitive impairment. That was really close to me coming from a Hispanic background. It was the first time that I started going out into the field, meeting the people face–to–face, and talking to them. This research was a community–based intervention where we were trying to increase exercise in these Hispanic communities. They were living in apartments together and I would go in and conduct interviews. The Hispanic elderly individuals were always so friendly. When we would come into their homes they would offer us food. I felt like I was talking to my grandparents every time I was talking to them because they were so friendly and treated me like family immediately. By going out into the field and being in their space, I was able to learn about their lifestyle. It was my first time actually working with these research tools and translating this type of friendly conversation into empirical evidence.

What has been your favorite clinical experience during your time at Penn?

My clinical last semester was for community health at Nurse–Family Partnership. Their patient population were mothers with infants up to three–years–old or pregnant mothers. We would go into their homes and do a lot of patient education. For example, if a mother was six months pregnant, we would tell them not to do a lot of exercise. Or if we were dealing with a mother with a two–year–old, we would talk about introducing new foods. I really liked it because I feel like with community nursing, you get to make the widest impact on people and you get to directly meet them too. These were low–income mothers, as well, and many of them were on food stamps or had trouble maintaining their jobs. I was really happy talking to them and learning more about them, and it just reminded me of why I went into nursing in the first place. I really liked that clinical most as it allowed me to reach so many people in need. 

How has being FGLI impacted your Penn experience? 

That was actually how I met my very first friends at Penn. I would say I'm low–income, but I'm not first gen. Still, I was invited to the Penn First Plus pre–freshman program and that's how I was able to meet my nursing friends and those are the very first friends that I made. It's been so fun and amazing with them. It's good to talk to them and stick together because I feel like sometimes at Penn, impostor syndrome is really, really big, especially coming from a low–income background.

Can you tell me about your involvement in Penn Tabletop club?

It's pretty nerdy. We play Dungeons & Dragons together. Freshman year, when it was COVID, this was where I first found my first group of friends. We would meet every weekend, talk to each other, and play together for a couple of hours. I’ve continued going throughout the years and it’s been really fun. Penn Tabletop has definitely helped me feel creative. I was always unsure if I was creative until I played D&D and saw everyone’s ideas fly off each other and create really crazy scenarios. 

What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?

Japanese class was one of the best experiences I've had at Penn. I picked Japanese for a complete ego reason because I'm Latina and if someone asks me what languages I speak, I can say “English, Spanish, and Japanese.” Learning Japanese has a really close place in my heart. I love learning the language just because it's completely different from English and it's just so rewarding. 

I also really love playing with my Nintendo Switch. When my friends come over sometimes we will all play a game together. I've always loved Nintendo since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are from playing the consoles.

I also really enjoy watching movies. I've tried to take some cinema classes even though they're not in my Nursing curriculum because I love talking about movies. Last year, I took Japanese cinema and I loved watching the movies and talking about them in class. This year I'm taking Korean cinema. My family loves horror, so I grew up watching horror. I think that some of the best horror movies are Korean horror movies. I literally joined the class just to talk about Korean horror movies and be exposed to more movies.

Where on campus have you found the best sense of community?

I have this one friend group that I joined sophomore year, and we’re a very tight friend group and we meet nearly every day. Sophomore year when I first met them, we would go to the rooftop lounges in Harrison or Harnwell multiple times a week and we would stay there until 5 a.m. I loved the rooftop lounges, it was so much fun. Overall, I’ve just loved gathering with my friends in different places on campus. My friends are the people that have made my Penn experience. 

What’s next for you after Penn? 

Currently, I'm in a loan forgiveness program with Penn. They give me more aid junior and senior years but in return, I have to work for two years at the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center. I’m going to try and work in the ICU for two years at the Princeton Medical Center. After that, I'm currently unsure because I really, really love research, but I’ve also really liked my time that I've had in the ICU. I'm just going to see how I feel at the end of my two years. I'm either going to try and see if I can go to grad school for nursing anesthesia or go to grad school to do nursing research and get a PhD. 

Lightning Round Questions:

No–skip song? “See You Again” by Tyler, The Creator

Favorite movie? The Shining 

Early bird or night owl? Early bird by force 

Favorite spot for food near campus? Ochatto (I know it’s a hot take) 

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Greece 

Favorite Nintendo Game? EarthBound

There are two types of people at Penn… The people who are career–driven and the ones that are more relaxed and enjoying college. 

And you are? I would like to say the enjoying college one, but I’m probably the career–driven one.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Do you know that one senior who brings a smile to everyone's face or always has the craaaaziest stories? It's time to give them the recognition they deserve. Ego of the Week seeks to showcase seniors, not for their grades or other fake academic construct, but for who they are as a person and the joy they bring to the people around them! Nominate your favorite Penn Seniors for Ego of the Week!