Undergraduate Student Spotlight

Shaneen Britton Acevedo, Class of 2020 

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major

Tell us a bit about your undergraduate experience – has there been a highlight?

I began college as a Bioengineering major, however, it did not take long for me to realize I loved the chemistry and biology classes more than all others. So I changed my major and became a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology B.S. major. It is still one of the best choices I’ve made. Other great decisions I’ve made in college are to tutor for the classes I had already taken, the material becomes so much clearer when you teach it, so I would encourage everyone to try it.  

What has your experience been like as a woman in STEM? (Highlights?)

As a Latina immigrant in STEM, having community has always been crucial for me. Here in Santa Cruz, I am surrounded by supportive people as a part of the EOP, ACE and the MSI community. In my research lab, UC LEADS and the STEM Diversity community, I am continuously encouraged and challenged. Being a part of these communities at UCSC has been a blessing, and I would say they are all the highlights of my experience here as a student. As a minority woman in STEM it was definitely a challenge to pursue a degree where you are not the norm, but having these communities strengthened me to pursue my goals.

What are your goals/plans for the future? 

Doing research in the Millhauser Lab opened my eyes to a career path I was unaware of before university. Now my plans for the future are to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology and continue to practice science beyond that."

shannen 


 Alexandra Turmon, Class of 2019

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major

Tell us a bit about your undergraduate experience – has there been a highlight?

My undergraduate experience has been overwhelmingly fulfilling. I am a proud Merrill affiliate and soon to be Class of 2019 graduate! The highlight of my undergraduate career has been working in Professor Scott Lokey’s Research Group, under my incredible mentor Victoria Klein. Also, I recently started working at LSS as an MSI tutor, another experience I find extremely rewarding. I struggled with chemistry in high school so being able to demystify chemistry for others is a great feeling.

What has your experience been like as a woman in STEM? (What have you overcome? Highlights?)

As any woman in STEM can attest there are barriers to overcome in our field. In high school, after receiving sub-par grades in my STEM related classes, my counselor strongly recommended that I change my career aspirations from a chemistry related field to literally anything else. Fortunately, with support from my math teacher, I stubbornly refused to do so and stuck with what I wanted to pursue. I started at UCSC as undeclared, and one night on a whim decided to pursue a degree in Biochemistry simply because I thought the name had a nice ring to it. Since, I’ve declared the major and am set to graduate on time.

What inspired you to do pursue an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry? 

Growing up, my mom would bring me to our local science museum. They had a lot of interactive exhibits and even though I didn’t understand any of it: I thought it was the most amazing place. They made science approachable as many of the exhibits and demos explained everyday phenomena. In high school, I absolutely loved watching crime shows and always thought that the forensic scientists were amazing (though none of the “science” they were doing is actually accurate). These two things are what initially had me thinking about studying biochemistry, and through my experience in my classes at UCSC, I decided that science is indeed for me.  

Do you have any words of advice for other students who may be interested in pursuing this sort of research?

If you are interested in getting into research my biggest tip would be to start early! (I would recommend starting to look for labs around the end of your second year). Talk to your TAs, upper classmen, and especially your professors! I found my way into the Lokey Research Group with help from my organic chemistry lab TA who helped me get in contact with a graduate student who was in an area of research I knew to be interested in. It’s all about showing genuine interest, ambition, and dedication. If you feel like you might not know enough science or that you are “just an undergraduate”, don’t think like that! The professor and graduate students you are working with know this and your mentor will help you grow your knowledge base.

What are your goals/plans for the future? 

My short-term plans for after graduation are always changing. For now, I am certain that I will be taking a gap year during which I will apply to PhD programs, oh and work during that gap year (hopefully in my field). My long-term goal is to attain a PhD in a field related to drug discovery and then work in industry.

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Amy Leslie, Class of 2019

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major

Tell us a bit about your undergraduate experience – has there been a highlight?
Highlight of my undergraduate experience was doing research! I found a home in the Zahler lab where I'm mentored by ambitious scientists. It's thrilling to do perform freaky genetic experiments on worms to uncover the mechanisms behind the spliceosome! I also did a summer research internship over in Australia and synthesized nanoparticles for vaccine applications. 
What has your experience been like as a woman in STEM? (What have you overcome? Highlights?)
It's challenging being a woman and a first-generation college student in STEM. I struggled with imposter syndrome, connecting to resources, and finding a community. I failed three of my major STEM courses and had no longer meet the requirements of my major. I reached out and received a lot of support from several resources; the Chemistry department (thank you, JUSTYN!); Educational Opportunities Program; Academic Excellence Program for STEM Majors (ACE); Slug Support; Calfresh; CAPS; and STEM Diversity. I joined a research lab and my appeal for BMB was approved! I was accepted into the NIH-IMSD fellowship and joined a community of hardworking undergraduate researchers from similar disadvantaged backgrounds.
What inspired you to do pursue an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry? 
I had a passion for biology and chemistry in high school. I thought both subjects were beautiful and I wanted the best of both worlds. The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. is a powerful degree because it encompasses a large branch of science thats great for many STEM career options from industry, academia, and medicine. It's been difficult but rewarding.
Do you have any words of advice for other students who may be interested in pursuing this sort of research?
Be openminded. Don't force yourself to major in something you don't like. Find YOUR passion and this will be the key to success. It's okay to switch fields and interests can change overtime. Being open to new ideas is vital. I was initially Pre-Med and I found out that I loved research a lot more instead. Don't let rejections deter you and find a research lab that matches your interests. Ask questions and reach out to the graduate students!
What are your goals/plans for the future? 
My plan is to go to graduate school and get my PhD in a Biochemistry/ MCD Bio/ Genetics umbrella program. Afterwards, I want to go into academia, become a principal investigator, and influence young minds in the STEM field. My goals might change and maybe instead I could go straight into industry. Regardless, I'm focused on a career in research.
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Leo Rivera Garcia, Class of 2019

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major

I am a second-year transfer student from the Inland Empire, a small town called Corona. I am a first-generation college student and immigrant to the United States. I come from a very humble home headed by a strong Mexican mother.

At first, my undergraduate transfer experience was a challenge. I left the town that I lived in most of my life and I was concerned how my absence would be felt back at home. Nonetheless, it was a challenge and sacrifice I was and still am willing to make. If I had chosen not to come, I would have never met the amazing people I did and would have never realized the future work I want to to dedicate a large portion of my life to.

Yes, I have had struggles along the way, balancing the time required to study in order to do well in science and math at the same time holding down a job so I can graduate debt-free. None of this has deterred me though as this has only made me stronger and I have experienced so much growth.

I originally chose this major with a career goal to enter the pharmaceutical industry.  Since coming to UCSC, I am now more interested in becoming a science educator hoping to instill in others a love for science. I want to give back to my community as a science educator.  I also have a dream of having my own science podcast where I can share my passion of science with others.

In my spare time I enjoy exercising, light reading, singing, visiting panoramic scenes, going out to the movies with friends, speaking in large crowds, and learning more about and myself and others. If you see me around on campus don’t be shy and say hello, I promise I’m not as serious as I may look.

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