Nikki Pasterczyk, ’25, attends the UN’s Commission for Social Development on Feb. 12. She presented a three-minute statement to the commission, outlining the essential impact of newborn screenings. (Courtesy of Nikki Pasterczyk)

Student advocate Nikki Pasterczyk makes her passions known


While the rest of campus slept soundly on an unassuming February morning, Nikki Pasterczyk, ‘25, took an early bus to New York City to speak at the United Nations’ Commission for Social Development.

She swiped her badge, took her seat in the conference room, reviewed her notes and, before long, presented a three-minute statement to the Commission for Social Development, outlining the essential impact of newborn screenings. 

For Pasterczyk, newborn screenings, both in the United States and in other countries with low screening coverage rates, is an issue of exceptional personal importance. 

Her younger brother was diagnosed with phenylketonuria just a few days after birth, which can cause a potentially deadly build up of the amino acid phenylalanine that can’t be broken down by its necessary enzyme. Growing up with this knowledge, Pasterczyk became enthralled with the study of molecular biology.

It later led her to pursue a degree in molecular biology with the goal of entering an MD-PhD program. 

“How could something I can’t even see be playing such a crazy role in my brother’s life?” Pasterczyk said. “A lot of my inspiration comes from my brother’s genetic disorder and how I’ve seen my family struggle with education and healthcare, trying to make sure he can be successful and not hindered by it.” 

Lehigh’s many opportunities to explore such passions and build a sense of community with others who have similar interests have continued to foster Pasterczyk’s personal and professional ambitions. 

“My freshman year, I was interested in doing research over the summer, and I found the Office of Fellowship Advising,” Pasterczyk said.

From there, Pasterczyk met with Elena Reiss, assistant director of the Office of Fellowship Advising and the United Nations programs, who recommended the UN Youth Representatives program to her.

“(Pasterczyk) is this amazing combination of a young person that has passion for the cause, a real keen intellect and also the ability to advocate on the global stage,” Bill Hunter, director of the Office of Fellowship Advising and the United Nations programs, said. 

In addition to this most recent presentation at the Commission for Social Development, Pasterczyk also presented a verbal statement at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2023 through the UN Youth Representative Program. 

The UN Youth Representatives is only the beginning of Pasterczyk’s many interests and hobbies. From fiction writing to women’s wrestling, Pasterczyk is an outspoken advocate for trying something new, even if it doesn’t come naturally. 

Over spring break this semester, Pasterczyk will be traveling on a service trip with Habitat for Humanity through Lehigh’s Community Service Office.

“Volunteering definitely helps your perspective,” Pasterczyk said. “I’m not the most handy person, but I don’t really care if I’m good at this or not, I’m just going to try it anyway.”

Pasterczyk exemplifies this penchant for service in her leadership position as Crew Chief for Lehigh University Emergency Medical Services. 

Pasterczyk volunteers for one 12-hour EMS shift every week and occasional weekend coverage in addition to her many academic ambitions, such as her research in the SEA-PHAGES program and in the Falk lab on campus. 

“Through Lehigh EMS, I get another sense of community because it’s really nice to be around people who have that shared passion for helping others,” Pasterczyk said. “It’s really cool to show people at Lehigh that we’re here for you and to promote a positive outlook on medicine.” 

Building these communities is a common theme in Pasterczyk’s life on campus, as noted by Emely Castrejon, ‘25, her friend since her first year at Lehigh. 

From simple catch-ups to girls-nights-in, Pasterczyk has made it a priority to build a social community with those she cares about. 

“She’s just an amazing friend,” Castrejon said. “I think of her as a sister. The other night she bought us pizza, and we all just ate dinner together and had an amazing conversation about our aspirations and what’s going on in our lives.”

Castrejon said one particular experience jumps out at her when she thinks back to her favorite memories of Pasterczyk. Having been passed down the tradition of making pierogies from her Polish mother, Pasterczyk hosted a pierogi night for her friends.

“We all tried her pierogies and just played board games,” said Castrejon. “I really love her for sharing her culture because it is always an amazing experience.”

Pasterczyk’s care for the well-being of and social engagement with other people is what helps her feel most fulfilled. 

“I’ve met so many amazing people through Lehigh — people who are just so enthusiastic about all kinds of things,” Pasterczyk said. “It’s very invigorating. It reminds me why I do what I do.”

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