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Encouraging Students to Consider STEM Studies

LSAMP Program Supports Undergraduate Research and Encourages Graduate Study

Oct. 19, 2012

Man standing on outcropping of rocks, holding a clipboard.

Geology major and LSAMP Scholar Ernest Nunez conducts research that involves collecting volcanic glass and basalt samples in Death Valley National Park for geo-chemical analysis.

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Cal State Fullerton junior biochemistry major Karen Balcázar is aspiring to become a scientist involved in making the next big drug discovery to cure disease.

Geology senior Ernest Nunez, who has been involved in undergraduate research in Eureka and Death valleys, plans a career as a research scientist in the petroleum industry.

And 2010 alumna Amelia Yzaguirre, who earned bachelor degrees in physics and mathematics, is currently in the doctoral program in mathematics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

These three students have one thing in common; all are scholars of the California State University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, also known as LSAMP.

Each joined the program early in their academic careers to take part in research opportunities and receive other support to pursue advanced study and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

"The goal of this program is to increase disadvantaged students' preparedness, persistence and retention in STEM programs, prepare them for graduate study, and help make them competitive applicants jobs in the STEM disciplines," said Christina A. Goode, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the CSUF LSAMP program.

In 1993, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation was initiated to serve as a comprehensive CSU program dedicated to broadening participation in STEM disciplines and bolstering the number of STEM baccalaureate degrees. The systemwide program is underwritten by the National Science Foundation and Chancellor's Office. Cal State Fullerton, which began offering LSAMP in 1994, receives about $45,000 in annual funding, Goode said.

CSUF-LSAMP is for undergraduate students who face social, educational or economic barriers to careers in STEM, Goode explained. It targets students majoring in the physical sciences — geology, chemistry and physics — as well as mathematics and engineering.

"Through this program, we're also trying to promote more gender diversity in the physical sciences, since there are not many females pursuing careers in these fields," Goode noted.

Through the alliance, campuses are able to coordinate and expand their expertise and resources to provide students a range of opportunities and information to increase interest and participation in STEM disciplines, Goode said.

The program assists students in a variety of activities, including academic advisement, skills workshops on topics such as science writing and presenting research, assistance with applications and admission to graduate schools and funds to attend research and STEM conferences, said Julianne Stern, program coordinator. For instance, earlier this month, 34 LSAMP students from CSUF and other CSU-LSAMP campuses traveled with Goode and Stern to Seattle for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science conference.

The capstone LSAMP activity is to give a select number of students an independent research experience with a faculty mentor, in which they receive a scholarship and/or course credit, Stern explained. Undergraduates receive scholarships of up to $4,000 a year in LSAMP funding for independent research projects.

Last year, 19 students received support for their research activities, and of those, some students graduated this year and others are continuing with their studies this fall, Stern added. Additionally, six students were funded to participate in faculty-mentored research last summer, and this fall, six new students received scholarships to be involved in academic research projects.

In 2010-11, 76 CSUF students were served through the program, and while all did not receive scholarship funding for research projects, they still had the opportunity to participate in STEM enrichment activities, Stern said.

Balcázar, Nunez and Yzaguirre share how the program enhances undergraduate research experiences and prepares students for graduate programs and STEM careers.

Karen Balcázar

Balcázar, who plans to graduate in 2015 and pursue a career as a pharmacologist, became involved in LSAMP during her freshman year.

"There are many benefits of this program. I've been given the chance to attend different conferences and workshops on topics about stress management, improve study methods and also how to write a scientific paper. I've also learned how to present myself as a professional and I have gained useful skills for presentations," said Balcázar of Placentia.

"I also wanted to be in the program because I am able to represent the minority group and show how dedicated and motivated I am in achieving my goals in science," added Balcázar, a first-generation college student whose parents emigrated from Peru. "LSAMP gives me the opportunity to focus on school and attain the knowledge that will be useful in research."

As an LSAMP scholar, she participated in summer research, and is currently working with Peter de Lijser, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, on his National Science Foundation-funded research. In de Lijser's lab, she is focusing on synthesizing small molecule drugs and studying their reactivity.

Her new project is to prepare, purify and study the radical reactivity of a set of molecules with a specific atomic arrangement (known collectively as "oximes") that are present in certain drugs, de Lijser said.

"The goal of the project is to optimize the formation of the radicals so that their reactivity can be studied in more detail, which will then allow for an analysis of how they might affect different systems in the human body," he added.

While working in de Lijser's lab, she learned useful techniques, such as how to use different instruments to analyze compounds, record observations, interpret data, work as a team, communicate her ideas, draw conclusions and plan next steps for the project.

"I have a great interest in doing research and to synthesize drugs, study specific reactions and analyze how they work," she said.

In January, Balcázar will travel to Chiang Mai University in Thailand as part of the CSU-LSAMP Global Awareness program, which will give her international research experience.

"I am extremely excited to be able to work with people from a different country because I will not only learn how to communicate better, but it will give me a chance to learn through the students and faculty in Thailand. This experience will allow me to become a better scientist as an undergraduate and learn how to adapt to a different culture."

Ernest Nunez

Nunez, who plans to graduate next year with a bachelor's degree in geology, joined LSAMP as a junior.

"Through this program, I have gained research experience in different labs, presented research posters at conferences, as well as valuable working knowledge that will help prepare me for graduate school and a career as a research scientist," said Nunez, the first in his family to go to college. "Without the LSAMP program, my research experience would have been limited."

The Orange resident has participated in several research projects, including studying "fault scarp morphology" along the northern Eureka Valley fault zone in eastern California, with Jeffrey R. Knott, professor of geological sciences. The investigation seeks to measure the age and magnitude of earthquakes and assess the hazards they could potentially impose, Nunez explained.

He is currently working on another project that involves collecting volcanic glass and basalt samples in the Last Chance Range of Death Valley National Park for geo-chemical analysis. Nunez helped process the basalt samples for analysis at Pomona College, and in the spring, will go with Knott to the California Institute of Technology to analyze the samples. They will be using Caltech's electron microprobe to collect chemical data from volcanic glass to compare it with other samples that have been published.

"This will help in determining the location or source of the lava flows in Last Chance Range since the source is still unknown," Nunez added.

As an LSAMP scholar, he has become involved in leadership positions, including serving as the Inter-Club Council representative for the Geology Club. He plans to pursue a master's degree and possibly a doctorate.

"I am very grateful to the LSAMP program for making my experience here at CSUF very rewarding," Nunez said.

Amelia Yzaguirre

Yzaguirre became interested in LSAMP to bolster her research opportunities in efforts to better prepare for graduate studies.

"LSAMP inspired me to begin the journey of academic research," she said. Because of her undergraduate research experiences, academic achievements and leadership skills, the CSUF alumna is the recipient of a $124,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the CSU Sally Casanova California Pre-Doctoral Scholars award. Both awards are helping her earn advanced degrees.

Yzaguirre was exposed to various research experiences as an LSAMP scholar. She conducted an independent study under Stephen W. Goode, chair and professor of mathematics, that was instrumental in giving her a strong math background in theoretical cosmology. Yzaguirre also participated in several summer research projects, including a stint at Princeton University where she studied the "shape of the universe."

While an LSAMP scholar, she attended conferences that exposed her to external resources, which was important for networking and preparation for graduate school. During the summer of 2009, she organized visits to graduate schools she was interested in attending — before even applying. She visited four institutions in the U.S. and five in Canada, which allowed her to rank her top choices.

"What was so great about LSAMP is that the program provided me the funding to basically create my own opportunities at graduate universities," she said. Without LSAMP support, Yzaguirre said she would not have been able to afford to make the visits, and ultimately, find the best match for her. In August 2010, she started at the University of Toronto — her top choice — for a year of postgraduate work studying astronomy and astrophysics.

Last year, Yzaguirre attended Dalhousie University and in August, earned a master's degree in mathematics. This fall, she began the doctoral program in mathematics.

After earning a Ph.D., Yzaguirre, a Redlands native, hopes to land a postdoctorate position at a university abroad, preferably in Taiwan or Japan. She also is considering a teaching career at the university level.

"The LSAMP program was fundamental to my academic career. It allowed me to pursue research and networking opportunities that went far beyond the scope of any other predoctoral program. I was very grateful to have been an LSAMP scholar and highly recommend LSAMP to all undergraduates interested in pursuing research."

More information about the CSUF program is available online

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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