By Hansook Oh
July 7, 2022
In Fall 2019, we interviewed 10 then-undergraduate students participating in the Diversity Program Consortium’s BUILD programs at universities across the country for our Face Of Science video series. These alumni have since achieved new milestones in their research career paths while navigating the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hear from seven of our Face Of Science stars about where they are now, and what it took to get there.
Watch their follow-up interviews on our “Where are They Now” YouTube playlist.
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In Episode 16, "I Can See Myself," Sydni Alexis Elebra reflects on her involvement with the campaign and shares new knowledge she's gained since then. Elebra was a participant in the ReBUILDetroit program at Wayne State University, and graduated from WSU in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Honors Chemistry. She will start her PhD in chemistry at Emory University this fall.
Elebra said she wants to advocate for those who cannot see themselves in STEM, a feeling she was familiar with while she was in college.
“This is a campaign that is aligned with who I am,” Elebra said. “It’s so important to me that, you know, a dark skin, short haired girl is on the screen and doing science and loves what she's doing—and has a smile on her face and enjoys it.”
In Episode 17, “Confidence and Growth,” Jade Dodge and Ayanna Culmer-Gilbert reflect on being part of the Face Of Science video series and how much they’ve grown since their undergrad years at Morgan State University and as participants in the BUILD ASCEND program.
“I feel like a lot of people are now seeing the importance of science and how we can help advance in the medical field,” said Culmer-Gilbert, who is pursuing a PhD in chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington.
She talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the undergraduate research she mentioned in her original Face Of Science interview and the challenges that created.
“I think that if I was able to continue working on it, I probably would've been a little bit more prepared for grad school when it came to some of the components that I'm doing here,” Culmer-Gilbert said. “[But] it's interesting to see how I've grown from that research. The researcher I am now, [is] a little more independent, I take a lot more initiative with the things that I'm doing.”
Dodge completed a post-bacc in pre-medicine/pre-medical studies at Temple University in 2021 and is currently a Clinical Research Coordinator at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She said she is encouraged by more people seeing the importance of science and scientists like her.
"It's definitely rewarding now. Like people are now saying, okay, this is what you do. This is why it's important. So definitely appreciated now," Dodge said.
In Episode 18, “Why We Do Research,” Aiyana Ponce and Cynthia Bautista share where their research journeys have taken them since #FaceOfScience and after graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso, where they participated in the BUILDing SCHOLARS program.
Ponce is currently an INRO IRTA Fellow at the National Institutes of Health at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a position she took on since graduating from UTEP in summer 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in cellular and molecular biochemistry. She discussed how exciting it was to be working in the institute run by Dr. Anthony Fauci during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I mean, most people had no idea who [Fauci] was, and then, he became just one of the leading figures of the country,” Ponce said. “I was there working in an infectious disease research laboratory. And at that time, it just felt just very incredible to be able to be part of one of the many teams all over the world that were just doing the work behind the scenes, that a lot of times often goes unnoticed. And now, I think just being in the scientific community, people are noticing.”
After graduating from UTEP in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, Bautista is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
“I see the importance of translational science and how that really is the driving force and the big motivation behind why we do translational science, why we do research — it's to help people and advance knowledge about disease,” Bautista said.
She also talked about the importance of community support and building a network, to achieving her dreams. She said she received a lot of help from her family, friends and mentors to get to where she is today.
“I mean two years ago I really dreamed of being where I am now, and so, how fortunate am I to even be here, right?” Bautista said. “Build your network, your support system, because that's really, really important.”
In Episode 19, “Trusting Myself,” Nathali May shares how challenging and rewarding it has been to build her confidence as a scientist and researcher. After graduating from Portland State University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in social science and psychology and where she participated in the BUILD EXITO program, May is currently working at Catholic Charities Oregon where she connects community members with mental health resources.
May said while she worked with the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, she saw people struggle with increased depression. She said as someone who focuses on mental health, she was able to bring scientific experiences into her work to help people and be effective.
“I feel like putting in practice everything that I've learned in classrooms, in my research lab, I was able to bring that science into my workplace,” May said. “And I have actually seen a lot of change being able to be part of [the community’s] experience, seeing their change and the mental health progress.”
May said one of her biggest challenges that she still works to address is struggling with her self-confidence.
“It used to be difficult, prior to that interview, for me to say that I was a scientist,” May said. “But now I'm so used to people looking at me that way. It's bittersweet to be able to go back to those moments and how I used to see myself, and how I see myself now.”
When asked what piece of advice she would tell her younger self, she highlighted the issue of self-doubt.
“I always doubt myself for everything, and the advice that I would give my young self will be to trust myself, to believe in me more,” May said. “And then with the doubts that I had going through my career, I made it more difficult for myself, but yet I did it. But if I were to trust myself more and believe in me more, then it would have been so much easier.”
In Episode 20, “Rejection is Redirection,” Jamie Michelle L. Prudencio talks about how she is staying true to herself and is working to achieve the goals she first set out in her original Face Of Science interview. Prudencio participated in the BUILD PODER program at California State University, Northridge, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in public health. She is currently earning a Master of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and works as an Outreach Coordinator at an advocacy organization called Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA).
Prudencio said that like many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, she did “a lot of soul searching” about her identity and purpose, questioning who she was supposed to be and if she was doing what she was meant to do.
“I feel like when I look at [my original interview], I'm just like, I'm doing exactly what I'm saying in this video," Prudencio said. “It's nice to be like, I said this like a couple months ago, a couple years ago, and I'm still doing it. Like, I'm staying true to who I am and what I want to be. And it feels good, it feels good.”
Her work with SIPA inspires her and reminds her that her scientific research has a humanitarian purpose.
“I look forward to giving back, especially to the Filipino community and the first-generation college student community, I think because it might be so hard to see yourself as a scientist and have the allocated resources to make yourself prosper,” Prudencio said. “Working hands on with the community [in Historic Filipino Town] is a reminder [for me not to] forget who you're doing this for, what all this school and studying is for and all this hard work. It's always a constant reminder [that] these are the people that you want to help, and you're doing it, so never forget that, that's always going to be my motivation, you know?”
Prudencio reflected on the role of imposter syndrome in her life, but that she’s been able to frame her experiences in a positive, encouraging way.
“Always know that rejection is redirection [and] somehow, some way you'll make it to where you want to be,” Prudencio said. “When I was younger, I really wanted to go to UCLA. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to go to UCLA. And when I was in high school, I also wanted to go to UCLA, and I didn't get in each and every time.
“And then, you know, the third time's a charm. And now we're here.”
SPAD & DPC DaTA
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.