In the following, I relate how a Mexican-American biochemist propelled me to believe that I had the right to a higher education. This an important note because I grew up being explicitly told that a University of California education was not for a Mexican American, especially for one whose parent “picked” crops. My mother, Teresa, spent her teen years into her adulthood moving around California--from Stockton to Santa Barbara--to, in her own words, work the pisca of tomate, papas, manzana, fresas y algodón.
Grade school in Santa Ana, California I grew up primarily in Santa Ana, California. For many of us, the thought of completing high school was remote and going to a university appeared impossible. While the state graduates approximately 76% of its adolescents from high school, Santa Ana’s graduate rate is one in two. In 1982, a guest from University of California, Irvine (UCI) led the school assembly; it was the first time I met Dr. Eloy Rodriguez. Up to that point, I'd never met someone who was a university professor but looked like me. I clung on to these game-changing words, "If you come to UCI, I will send you to a jungle to help me with my experiments.” In that exact moment, I committed to making it to UCI and accept this remarkable invitation.
Undergraduate school at UCI After years at a city college juggling full-time employment and my studies, I was 21 when I was offered acceptance admission to three UCs. Fortunately for me, one was from UCI’s biology program. I knew I was on my way to accept Professor Rodriguez’ offer. My first week of school, I did not hesitate to find his office, reintroduce myself, and remind him of the invitation he'd made one decade prior. Visibly joyful for my visit, he said that no one from his visits to Santa Ana schools or otherwise had taken him up on his offer. He informed me that the trips that summer were to Central and South America, and Uganda, and given his enthusiasm for my participation he allowed me to pick any of the destinations. I was on my way to a Ugandan, tropical rain forest. This experience solidified my interest and confidence in attending graduate school. Fifteen years in the workforce While my plans to attend graduate school soon after graduating from UCI, the recession hit. Being the eldest of five and my parents unemployed, I played an active provider role. Although not in the context of graduate school, those years did not go in vain. Given the outstanding training I had gained at UCI, I was able to have rich professional experiences in roles that helped promote community-level health. Moreover, my youngest sibling enrolled in a PhD program in 2010. That was the moment that I knew it was time for me to once again pursue that goal I set out for myself when I met Professor Rodriguez. Graduate school at a University of California Within a year of opening its doors, University of California Merced (UCM), considered a Hispanic-serving institution, became known as a flagship of behavioral health research, which included health disparities. I learned that a leading person in a framework that makes core sense to me was to officially start as faculty in 2011. Promptly, I took action to be considered for acceptance at UCM where I am currently competing my PhD in Health Psychology. With me I have brought my love for higher education, my professional experiences, and maturity to work with many students of diverse backgrounds who, like me, are the first in their families to earn a seat at a university. Moreover, UCM enrolls many students who also have farmworking parents and/or have been farmworkers themselves. Regarding my research, I have integrated my commitment to reducing and/or eliminating health disparities as it affects Latinx Americans, especially those who experience institutional and social maltreatment. Going forward This coming year is my dissertation year. Currently, and I am currently planning my next steps after completing my doctoral degree. I am excited to share that I will pursue a post-doctoral position within the University of California system. Overall, my research program is to offer more solutions that reduce or eliminate health disparities in vulnerable American populations. Your appreciated financial support helps me at various levels. It will take resources to travel throughout the state to meet potential post-doctoral mentors. Also, I have multiple studies that I want to launch that do not have the proper financial support. After one to two years of post-doctoral work, I will actively seek a tenure tracked position at an institution that has a high percentage of first generation college students and Latinx Americans. My objective is to combine research and mentoring efforts that contribute to Latin communities and scaffolding their children to achieve their academic dreams. In summary, I want to carry on the momentum Dr. Rodriguez placed in motion. In addition to contributing to science, I also want to contribute to youth and young adults who otherwise do not see higher education as an option.