Undergraduate Student Spotlight

Kareem Bdeir, Class of 2020 

Chemistry BS with Biochemistry concentration Major

My name is Kareem Bdeir and I am a graduating senior majoring in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. I am a Palestinian American born in San Francisco, CA. Some of my hobbies include cooking and growing and caring for plants.

It’s hard coming up with a defining moment in my undergraduate experience because it has been a journey since day one. I started at UCSC as a Biology major but quickly switched to Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and then eventually to Chemistry with the concentration. It was somewhat unexpected how my undergraduate career managed to shape itself around what I liked. I gained inspiration from great professors and they unknowingly helped me realize that I want to teach chemistry.

Being a first generation student in STEM proved to be as difficult as people said it would be. The rigor of my classes paired with the pressure from my family has made these past four years difficult. Something that I learned about myself, however, is that I strive under pressure.

My current plan is to apply for a graduate program at the end of next year. I will work in research until my program begins in 2021.

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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."

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 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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