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Alumni in the Spotlight

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Image Melissa was a participant in Oak Crest’s 2011 Summer Research Connection program. Working with a team of teachers and other high school students, she studied the microbial ecology of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco stream.

She is currently a senior at Marshall Fundamental in Pasadena. She will be the first in her family to attend college and now must choose among her top schools to which she has been accepted: University of California Berkeley, Tufts University, Cornell University, and University of Pennsylvania. She is also a finalist for the prestigious QuestBridge and Gates Millennium scholarship programs. We wish her the best of luck.

Q: What did you think of SRC?

A: I loved it. The whole experience was what I hoped it would be and more. Before the program I didn’t fully understand the entire research process. In the SRC we did things no one had done before and because of this, there was a lot of trial and error. But, I learned that I have what it takes to conduct research – to do science in the real world. I thought I may just learn about my research topic but I learned so much more. It was a great experience listening to and doing presentations. I recognized the terms researchers, at the universities I applied to, used when describing their research. I was really excited to start my Advanced Placement Biology class last fall because I truly understood the concepts we discussed. I was also able to use what I learned on my college applications. The whole experience made a big difference since now I know I want to conduct research as an undergraduate.

Q: What are your aspirations in science?

A: I really want to make an impact through science especially on my own Hispanic community. The things I’ve learned at SRC make me excited and I want to share this with other people in my community. While in the SRC, I tried to explain the things we were doing to my mom but she didn’t understand the concepts. I want to help others get access to science and be able to shape my community through research. There are so many doors to be opened and science is a key.

Q: Did you take anything away from SRC in particular?

A: SRC helped me choose the major I want to pursue. I went into the program thinking about biochemistry or engineering and I still intend to pursue biochemistry but now I’m more interested in molecular biology because of our research. SRC helped me explore the different fields through the seminars and workshops. It definitely boosted my motivation to become a science researcher as a career.

Q: How did SRC differ from your expectations and other science experiences you’ve had?

A: I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before the SRC, I didn’t understand what scientific writing meant and now I’m able to understand science articles. I’ve always had a strong interest in science and was motivated by a program I attended the summer before SRC called COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science). I realized that science is more than knowledge – I could truly understand how important it is and how I can be involved in it as a career. SRC is the longest science experience I have had. When I did have hands-on experiences before SRC, it was in a lab. At SRC we were in the field most of the time working with other students and my teachers. SRC has a more intimate research style also. My group’s mentor focused on the research we were doing and made sure I understood everything. That attention and amount of help sets SRC apart.

Q: What advice would you give to high school students interested in science or starting at Oak Crest?

A: I would tell high school students interested in science to take as many opportunities as they can to get exposure to science. Even short ones like the engineering day at Caltech. Don’t limit yourself to one field or one subject. There are science programs and resources, you just have to look for them and take advantage of them.
I would tell new SRC students not to just pay attention to their own work but to pay attention to the work that other groups are conducting. Teachers are learning just like the students are – everyone learns from each other. Pay attention during the meetings and the information everyone shares. I wish I had taken notes at every seminar. It’s great to learn from other people about what they are working on.