I was raised in a traditional New Mexican household with a large extended family. My upbringing provided me a dynamic environment with life lessons ranging from helping out on the family ranch in northern NM to actively contributing to the community through dance and other arts in Albuquerque’s South Valley and surrounding areas. My parent’s always put an emphasis on education as the key for my future independence and did everything they could to make sure I could succeed at whatever I wanted to become.
I was a scientist from an early age, winning science fair competitions in elementary and middle school with projects such as “What’s the difference between music and noise?”. As an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, I studied Biology and Chemistry with the support of lottery scholarships and government grants, but still worked full-time as the manager of a coffee shop to support textbook fees and living expenses. Two professors in my last year of undergraduate studies encouraged me to pursue a career in science after seeing how their semester project assignments sparked a curiosity and drive for wanting to better understand life. After graduation, I was accepted to the UNM Biology Department’s National Institute of Health (NIH) Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) and began my training as an interdisciplinary scientist during a year-long internship.
Part of the aim of PREP is to provide opportunities to under represented minority (URM) students and guide them in the graduate school admissions process. In addition to gaining valuable training and exposure to bioengineering during my PREP year, I was also accepted to the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP) at UNM’s School of Medicine and began my PhD training. I joined the Center for Biomedical Engineering under the mentorship of Profs. Jim Freyer and Andy Shreve to develop droplet-based 3D cell culture methods for studying the chemical tumor microenvironment and was funded by a NIH predoctoral Ruth Kirschstein National Service Diversity Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI-F31). Then in a first postdoc with the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at UNM under the joint mentorship of Profs. Nick Carrol, Gabriel Lopez, and Andy Shreve- I continued to use droplets environments to build minimal synthetic model systems of membraneless organelles using DNA-protein coacervates.
The first time I travelled internationally was in my first year of graduate school for a CYTO conference to Leipzig, Germany. My eyes were opened to the world through science and I was inspired. Although the minority-serving institution that is UNM allowed me to mature into an independent researcher with the support of my family, friends, and greater hispanic community close by- I dreamed of becoming an international researcher.
Now, my dream has come true. I am currently a postdoctoral scholar with the Cellular Biophysics Department at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research under the mentorship of Prof. Joachim Spatz in Stuttgart, Germany. My research focuses on building modular interactions between stem cells and light-controllable synthetic cells and ECM to program the differentiation of stem cells into predictable organoids.
I look forward to continuing my journey and fully realizing my potential as an independent researcher after completing my postdoctoral training with the MPI. I encourage all people, regardless of background, to reach out and contact me with ideas, comments, or questions.