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A Future in Medicine

Health Professions Award Winner Pursues Medical Career

May 17, 2013

young man in a blue T-shirt that reads CSUF.

Ernesto Casillas

Ernesto Casillas was happily studying ecology and marine biology, until a volunteer stint providing medical relief in Mexico with the Flying Samaritans and Prescribing Hope turned his thoughts toward a medical career. With assistance and advice from the Health Professions Advising Office, Casillas zeroed in on his calling and this August will begin his medical studies at USC's Keck School of Medicine on a full scholarship.

For outstanding scholarly work and desire to enter the medical field, Casillas was named this year's recipient of Miles D. McCarthy Health Professions Undergraduate Award, presented each spring by the Health Professions Committee. Casillas will be recognized at the May 24 Honors Convocation, though he won't be able to attend since he is a fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland, conducting health disparities research.

"It's truly an honor to receive this award and to be recognized by my university," Casillas said. "I was proud to say I was from CSUF during my medical school application process."

The award is named in honor of Miles D. McCarthy, the late faculty member who founded the Health Professions Committee to advise pre-health professions students and went on to serve as acting university president. The Health Professions Advising Office and the Health Professions Committee have a successful record of mentoring and supporting students in obtaining acceptance into professional schools — including medical, veterinary, dental, osteopathic, pharmacy and optometry schools.

Casillas earned a bachelor of science degree in biological science with a concentration in molecular biology and biotechnology at CSUF in May 2011 and has been conducting research at NIH to develop improved fluorescence proteins, which are useful in understanding gene expression and imaging structures within cells.

As an undergraduate, Casillas was a Southern California Ecosystems Research Program scholar. Under the mentorship of Danielle C. Zacherl, associate professor of biological science, he studied oyster larvae movements in Newport Beach and sea snail toxicology.

"I could not be happier with my experiences at CSUF. I made lifelong friendships and met amazing faculty. I received an excellent education — one that allowed me to compete very well with prospective medical students from all over the country," said Casillas, a Desert Hot Springs native. "I enriched my education by participating in campus clubs, student government and research. Becoming involved in these activities allowed me to gain valuable skills beyond my textbook education."

He credited faculty mentors, including Zacherl, with helping him reach academic success. "Her mentorship was crucial to my development as a scientist. I learned to apply scientific methods and to present my research to the scientific community," for which he won a national award.

Biological science faculty members and SCERP directors William J. Hoese and Darren R. Sandquist also were instrumental. "They always encouraged me to explore my scientific curiosities and to apply to programs and scholarships."

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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