Nutrition student says Syracuse experience is “more than I could have imagined”

Justin Pascual making pasta in Italy as part of the Mediterranean Food and Culture course.
Justin working in one of the kitchens he visited in Italy as part of the Mediterranean Food and Culture course.

Any race longer than 26.2 miles is considered an “ultra-marathon.” Syracuse senior Justin Pascual is training for one. For some, it might sound crazy. But for Justin, whose favorite course is organic chemistry, there’s something truly fun about a challenge.

As native of Sierra Vista, Arizona, Syracuse wasn’t exactly a familiar place on the map when Justin arrived on campus in 2017. In fact, Justin enrolled at Syracuse University before ever visiting in New York State.

A deciding factor was the student-to-faculty ratios at SU, and specifically the nutrition and nutrition science programs, where Justin says students can build meaningful connections with faculty. “For me, one’s relationship with their faculty makes the experience, and Syracuse University offered to me exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “SU has this unique way of offering all the amenities and perks of a large university while maintaining a relatively quaint and small-town vibe.”

Justin completed an associate’s degree in general studies, focusing in chemistry, at the University of Maryland. After serving for 10 years in the United States Air Force, Justin decided to pursue further education at Syracuse. “Nutrition has always been a strong interest of mine; however, it wasn’t until I started at Syracuse that I found my passion for nutritional biochemistry,” says Justin. “Learning how the body skillfully interacts with ingested foods to optimize the performance of every cell is truly fascinating.”

In a Nutrition Research course with Dr. Dayeon Shin studying nutrition-applied scientific research methods, he was captivated. “It was the key that unlocked my academic passions. Combining curiosity, nutrition, and science into a systemic process, as nerdy as that may sound, was like music to my soul.”

But nutrition isn’t just about science. Over the summer, Justin visited Italy to tour the Tuscan countryside as part of the Mediterranean Food and Culture course offered at SU Florence led by Tanya Horacek, professor of nutrition. “We lived on working farms, which are pretty much bed and breakfasts with spectacular views, learned the traditional ways of pasta, pizza, and wine making, and toured cities such as Pisa and Florence,” Although Justin has travelled to 22 different countries, one of his more relaxing hobbies is cooking and hosting dinner for friends and family. The trip was a perfect fit. “It was an amazing experience.”

Back on campus, you can find Justin giving tours of campus and answering questions for visiting prospective students as a Falk College Ambassador. He’s also a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. The McNair Scholars Program serves undergraduate students from underrepresented populations to support active student research and preparation for graduate or doctoral study.

“To put it simply, being at Syracuse is like being home,” he says. “Being in the military for 10 years, I’ve traveled a lot, had to live in many different places, and met many different people; however, I never felt like I truly belonged the way I do at SU.”

With support from University staff and advisors, Justin came to Syracuse and found it to be a place where he could discover his own interests, envision his goals, and create an experience to achieve them. “I started out this journey here slightly intimated and a bit fearful not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with the degree, or even if my major was the right one for me. However, my interests and passions have evolved semester after semester and I feel that I’m really heading down the path I was destined to be on.”

“I think that’s what it means to ‘Be Orange’: to pave the way for those coming behind us, to create opportunity and invoke inspiration, and to leave a place better than we found it,” he says.

Justin plans to continue his academic career through a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry researching nutrition immunology, and to someday work for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the nutrition biochemistry lab.