Meet VALLEY’s Spring 2024 Self-Improvement Section Opener: Sarah Strent

Photo by Shana Andrews

When do you know if something is a calling?

For Sarah Strent, a fourth-year early childhood and elementary education student, the answer came in the form of education. From the roads and buildings of Penn State to the classrooms she aspires to lead, Strent’s journey is a story of perseverance. She has embarked on a transformative path shaped by personal challenges, profound experiences and an unyielding commitment to making a difference and creating community. 

“Teaching has always been in my head. I had great teachers growing up. So I was always kind of inspired,” she says.

Raised by her mother, someone whose career has been her inspiration to teach English as a second language, Strent’s familial influence laid the foundation for her career aspirations.

“I always thought I would be a good fit for it,” she adds. On campus, she is involved in several different activities and organizations and currently, she has been working as a student teacher at Corl Street Elementary School in State College.

From a young age, Strent’s encounters with the world of education were deeply intertwined with her mother’s teaching journey.

“At least once a year, I would go to her school and see the different areas and the different grades. It just amazed me,” Strent says.

Her mother’s commitment to fostering a love for learning among her students left an impression on Strent, prompting her to embark on a similar path.

“Teaching education and working with young kids is what I ideally want to do,” she says.

In the summer of 2023, Strent traveled to Ecuador to gain her certificate in English as a Second Language (ESL). Strent says that her time spent teaching students was an eye-opening experience that offered her unique perspectives and allowed her to push the limits of how she looked at the English language. She also began learning Spanish to put herself in the shoes of her students.

“The best part, in my opinion, was just being immersed in a new culture. It was incredible; I was blown away by the students,” she says.

Strent finds joy in creating a safe space and fostering an environment of community around her. At Penn State, she joined Jewish organizations on campus, such as Chabad on Campus and Hillel. As the president of Chabad on Campus, one of Penn State’s Jewish student organizations, Sarah dedicated herself to fostering a vibrant and inclusive community for students of all backgrounds. Through her leadership, Sarah sought to unite students in a shared celebration of their cultural heritage and faith, creating a space where everyone felt welcomed and valued.

Beyond organizational leadership, Sarah’s commitment to the community extended to her participation in community service initiatives, such as a transformative trip to Curacao with Hillel. Reflecting on her experiences, Sarah emphasizes the importance of creating connections and spreading compassion.

“The goal is just to create a community of proud Jews who are happy to be at Penn State and give opportunities for the students.”

Sarah Strent

Yet, life’s journey often presents unexpected challenges. Strent’s resolve was put to the test when, in September, she faced a pivotal moment in her life. She experienced having two seizures while visiting a friend in South Carolina, recalling having started seizing for the first time in her sleep. Thankfully, the friend she was visiting, Matthew, was present. “He immediately recognized that I was having a seizure and called 911,” she says.

Strent’s seizures lasted a staggering seven minutes each, leaving her disoriented upon regaining consciousness. However, she cites the real difficulty of the situation being in the aftermath rather than that night itself. Having to face the reality of the situation and taking time away from Penn State, as well as her job as a student teacher, turned out to be the most challenging part. 

Strent’s own health journey intersected with her mother’s, adding layers of complexity and emotional intensity to her experiences. Diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer, her mother faced her own battle, causing a deeper, special bond to form between the two. Despite the overwhelming challenges, Strent found solace and inspiration in her mother’s unwavering resilience.

“At times, you would just never know that this was going on in her life because she just remained so strong,” she says.

Sarah Strent

Strent’s mother serves as a beacon of hope, guiding her family through the darkest of days with her unwavering courage and faith. Strent recalls the profound impact of her mother’s diagnosis on her own perspective.

“My seizures happened before her diagnosis and cancer, but even before I had seizures, she had always inspired me,” Strent says.

The simultaneous challenges of managing her epilepsy and supporting her mother through cancer treatment tested Strent’s resilience in ways she never imagined. Strent and her mother supported each other their hardships.

“She just continued to be there for us, and we were there for her,” she says.

Their shared experiences forged an unbreakable bond, rooted in love, resilience and determination to overcome life’s greatest challenges. Despite the challenges that came her way, Strent learned to look for the little things — the light in the dark.

“For me, my little things were — I was home, I was playing with my dog every day, I got to start a new book. I got to see friends from home whom I wouldn’t typically see at school. You know, the little, little things,” she says.

Her mother has shared this sentiment and inspired her to take it in stride as well. She recalls a time when her mother sent her a photo of a sunrise, reminding her to look out for the small things.

“Even when you think life is crumbling, and it’s not going to be okay, reassure yourself that it is going to be okay.”

Sarah Strent

Through sheer resilience and the unwavering support of her family, friends and healthcare professionals, Strent emerged stronger and more determined than ever before.

Looking ahead, Strent’s aspirations extend far beyond just school and academia. With dreams of becoming a teacher and making a positive impact on the lives of her future students, as well as raising a family to impart the same knowledge, Strent’s journey serves as a testament to the transformative power of education and the enduring resilience of the human spirit.


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