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The BUILD PODER class of 2018 included over 50 students with exciting plans to continue their higher education journey. From post-baccalaureate experiences to master's and Ph.D. programs at universities near and far, this group of alumni will reach their next destinations with the support, knowledge and skills that BUILD PODER provided during their undergraduate college careers. These seniors reflected fondly on their transformative experiences with a rare scientific research training program that puts social justice at the center. They attribute their success in their academic pursuits to the resources, mentorship, opportunities and community support they found through BUILD PODER, and the leadership of the program’s two principal investigators (PI), CSUN psychology professors Gabriela Chavira, Ph.D., and Carrie Saetermoe, Ph.D. Here are some of their takeaways as they contemplate their past, present and future.
Undergraduate major: Kinesiology Exercise Science
Next educational destination: Northwestern University, Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).
What are your plans and goals?
For the next three years, I’m going to be earning my doctor of physical therapy (DPT) at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Once I finish with my DPT, I want to do residency at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, the No. 1 rehab hospital in the country. I would like to start my own physical therapy clinic and be able to take on student interns to facilitate student growth. My big goal is to open up something like the CSUN Brown Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy within the Center of Achievement. I want to give back to the community and do free physical therapy and continue making a positive impact.
My other career goal is use my story and experiences to help others who are starting around the same place I did. I didn’t go to high school and I had to earn my GED before enrolling in community college before transferring to CSUN. There are so many people who go through a similar process and it’s daunting to look at all that you have to do. I feel like many people give up too early once they face a difficult obstacle. I want to show people that if you stick to it and keep going, you’ll get there, so I want to be a resource in that way.
How do you feel BUILD PODER has helped you to pursue your plans and goals?
BUILD PODER has given me the confidence to succeed, a community that lifted me up, and resources that took me to places I never could have imagined. My life changed for the better from the moment I first saw the BUILD PODER flyer. They took a chance on accepting me, and this program pushed me and made me better than I thought I could ever be. There was so much I didn’t know before BUILD, but now everything I didn’t know—how to do an elevator speech, make a poster, put together a CV, write a personal statement—all of that has become second nature. BUILD PODER also helped me to overcome barriers. I’ve always wanted to defy people’s expectations of me. When I was young, my biological mom told me that I was going to achieve nothing, and I always I set out for myself to prove her wrong. BUILD PODER helped me to get to a place that defied even my own expectations of myself. I thought I was just going to go to CSUN and get a degree. There is probably no way I would have even applied to Northwestern—I didn’t even know what Northwestern was. Now I am headed to one of the top universities in the country!
What is something you will never forget from your experience with BUILD PODER?
I’ll never forget all the time I spent in BUILD PODER student lab, studying, bonding with the other students, laughing, joking, venting and supporting each other. We shared so many experiences together. I also will never forget my tutor, Carlos, who spent hours helping me with my chemistry classes and became one of my best friends. That student space was a defining part of my college experience and was a second home to me.
Undergraduate Major: Psychology
Next educational destination: University of California, Irvine, Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology
What are your future plans and goals?
This fall I’ll be starting my graduate education at UC Irvine for a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, with a concentration in psychology and the law. I am hoping to earn a joint Ph.D./J.D. by applying to law school this summer. During the summer, I’ll be participating in the Competitive Edge program at UC Irvine through a fellowship called Cota-Robles, which gives me two years of funding, research, travel and summer funds. After graduate school, I’d like to teach at a community college because of my own experiences as a community college student who transferred into a four-year university. I’d also like to do research about the community college experience because the research is pretty much non-existent there. I feel if we bring research or start establishing partnerships with community colleges, we can increase transfer rates, especially for underserved communities. In the long term, my goal is to become a political advisor for a California State Assembly member using my research and maybe one day run for the California State Assembly.
BUILD PODER showed me how to apply research as social justice. When I first started at CSUN as a psychology major, I didn’t see how one could make a bigger impact on society and in underserved communities and communities of color. When I learned about Critical Race Theory and saw how our two PI’s were using psychology research to make a difference, I knew I could one day do the same. As a BUILD PODER scholar, my research has been about predicting mental health outcomes of incarcerated ethnic minority youth. I want to become a researcher-activist to raise awareness about juvenile delinquency in minorities to decrease stigma about the topic. I’d like to start my own organization like Homeboy Industries, but targeted for youth who get caught up in the juvenile delinquency cycle.
I will never forget Dr. Saetermoe’s research methods courses. Her archival data class helped me discover my love and passion for statistics, and I’m going to be minoring in quantitative psychology in my graduate program. Dr. Saetermoe asked me to be a stats tutor for the class, and just helping other students really helped me as well. I made really good friends in that class and we all gained teamwork skills because we’d help each other out and study together. Her mixed-methods grounded theory class is first time I’ve ever received a “C” on a paper before. It was very challenging, but that’s why I learned so much from that class. Now going into my program, I only want to do mixed methods research.
Undergraduate Major: Psychology
Next educational destination: CSUN, Master's in Psychology - General Experimental
I will continue to work on research with my undergraduate mentor, CSUN psychology professor Dr. Elise Fenn, addressing issues of eyewitness memory and improving eyewitness memory. I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology with an emphasis in psychology and law, focusing on eyewitness memory and jury decision-making.
I feel like BUILD PODER has given me the foundation to build on for the rest of my educational career. I learned research methods, how to present myself professionally, how to communicate with faculty, and how to choose a mentor based on what my needs are. I also learned how to prepare myself for interviews because BUILD PODER helped me to do mock interviews. I travelled to new destinations to do research. All of this was important in learning how to navigate applying to graduate school. BUILD PODER also helped me as a woman of color. Learning about Critical Race Theory helped me to see how to empower myself despite my disadvantages. I’ve been able to succeed because of what BUILD PODER has given me.
There are two things I will never forget. First, I will never forget the impact that Dr. Gabriela Chavira had on my college experience. I first heard about the program while I was taking her psychology 150 course. I remember the passion behind her eyes when she talked about it. Her dreams came true with the program and she is so happy to see all of us succeed, and her dream will be passed on through our success. I’ll always be in debt to Dr. Chavira for giving me the opportunity and her support.
The second thing I will never forget are all the memories from the relationships and friendships I made through the program. It was like I gained a second family and at the end of the day we pushed one another because we cared about each other’s success. I’ll forever cherish those memories and always be grateful.
Undergraduate Major: Psychology
Next educational destination: Alliant University, Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology
What are your plans and goals?
At Alliant University, I’ll be doing research on innovation and change in work environments. After I receive my Ph.D, I’d like to continue to do research to produce knowledge that can improve and advance the workplace, as well as apply my knowledge by consulting. I still want to go to conferences, write and publish because BUILD PODER gave me the passion for research and taught me that I can make an impact as a researcher.
How do you feel BUILD PODER has helped you to pursue your plans and goals?
I look at other psychology students who were not part of the BUILD program, and I see that many of them have dreams to get a graduate education, but no solid way of getting there. Without BUILD PODER I wouldn’t have known how to get there either. They gave us an “everything you need to know” education so that we not only know our subject matter, but also know how to navigate the process of getting a graduate education. Now I consider myself an expert—If someone I know wants to go to grad school, I can help them. Here is how you get a grant, how to apply, study for the GRE, etc.
As my future work will include researching diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, I am happy that I learned about Critical Race Theory (CRT). Without learning CRT, I wouldn’t have completely understood myself in the context of gender and race. Learning about microaggressions was also important to me because I know how to identify them and know how they might unfold in the workplace. I have to keep in mind that no matter where I go, I’m a woman and Latina going into the professional field and I stand as a number. That’s also why I chose Alliant University because it’s an inclusive institution, and it’s very important that I am in that environment.
I will never forget the mentorship I received from my mentor, CSUN psychology professor Dr. Abraham M. Rutchik. When I told him what my goals were, he said, “We’re going to get you there.” I’m thankful that BUILD PODER provided me with a mentor who was able to guide me, stand as a role model, give me challenges, and help me push forward in achieving my goals.
Undergraduate Major: Cell/Molecular Biology
Next educational destination: University of Massachusetts Medical School, Post-baccalaureate
This July, I’m starting a one-year post-baccalaureate experience at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I’ll be working as a lab technician and will be taking courses alongside first-year Ph.D. students in biological sciences graduate programs. I hope to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. degree after I complete the year. Long term, I would like to work in a hospital setting as a researcher-physician. I am interested in treating infectious diseases and pathology, as well as research in bacterial pathogenesis or antibiotic resistance.
BUILD PODER helped shape my vision for my future. Before BUILD PODER I just wanted to be a doctor. I never thought research would be in my future, but I discovered my passion for research while in the program. Without BUILD PODER, I wouldn’t have gone to my summer program at USC, and I wouldn’t have been as competitive for a post-baccalaureate experience. It gave me a competitive edge.
I’ve learned some important skills through the program. One of them was how to choose a mentor. There are many different mentoring styles and your mentor can make or break you during graduate school. You want to choose someone who is compatible with you. I’ve gotten also much better at time management. I used to think about what I wanted to do and cram it into one day, but now I can estimate and budget my time better to complete my tasks.
I will never forget the first conference I attended, which was the 2017 American Society for Microbiology conference in New Orleans. I was so nervous to present and the thought of just going out there in front of people who have way more experience in the field really scared me. But I got up there and realized that I could do it! It was also a great time and a lot of fun. I was able to travel to two new cities (New Orleans and Salt Lake City) to present research, and I’ll always remember those experiences fondly.
Undergraduate major: Anthropology
Next educational destination: University of California, Davis, Master of Public Health Program
At the UC Davis Master of Public Health program, I want to focus on doing research on chronic disease prevention. Once I complete the program, I’ll apply for a Ph.D. in chronic disease prevention. Public health is what really inspires and motivates me.
The most important thing that BUILD PODER helped me learn is that it is crucial to keep your goals in mind. A piece of advice would be to write down your goals and look constantly at the steps you need to take to meet that goal. When I first joined the program, I knew I wanted to do research, but I didn’t have a plan. I’ve improved at planning and executing my goals. It helped me be comfortable with recognizing and moving past my fears, because achieving my goals was more important. I have to thank my CSUN mentors, urban studies and planning professor Dr. Zeynep Toker and anthropology professor Dr. Chin Hsin Liu, for providing me the training, guidance and plan of execution in order to prepare me for the application process for graduate school.
I will never forget the lesson of how import it is to choose the right mentor. You need to choose someone who is confident about you and your abilities. Moving forward with meeting my future mentors, I now know exactly what I need.
Undergraduate major: Biochemistry
Future plans: University of Pittsburgh, Post-baccalaureate
This summer I will continue to work with my mentor, CSUN chemistry professor Dr. Ravinder Abrol, to publish our research on pathogenic bacteria using computational biochemistry. After the summer, I’ll be doing research at the University of Pittsburgh for one year developing simulation software that explores the flexibility of drug-binding protein pockets, as well as working on programs for computer-aided drug-discovery. I hope to pursue a Ph.D. at the same university or other universities to continue doing computational biochemistry research. Long-term I’m looking at a career within the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.
I really had no clue what I was doing in the beginning of college and I was just coming to get a degree. BUILD PODER helped me to find my passion for research and I was inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. As a first generation student, I’ve faced barriers in knowing what kind of opportunities are available for me. BUILD PODER provided the crucial how-to’s, the support system and the motivation to pursue my dreams. Dr. Gabriela Chavira’s professional development courses provided mentoring and guidance on the process of preparing and applying to grad school, and what to expect. I’ve learned how to ask questions and find answers. I’ve learned how to set priorities, manage my time, network with professionals and professors, and learned about the culture and practices of researchers.
I’ll also never forget my first conference. I was on my own in Georgia and it was the first time I’ve ever flown to another state. I was one of the only minorities there, which was intimidating at first, but I realized I’m just as smart and capable as anyone else as a scientist. I gained a lot of confidence through that experience. I also will never forget the friendships I made. I’ve gained a very strong support group from the program. We’ve studied together, hiked together, eaten together and have been there for each other throughout college. I’ll always cherish those memories.
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.