Graduating senior Nathan Bui went from high school valedictorian and Eagle Scout to Cal State Fullerton President’s Scholar, peer mentor and molecular biology researcher.
His faculty research adviser Melanie A. Sacco, associate professor of biological science, shared that Bui’s college successes are due to his innate intelligence, curiosity for learning and drive to achieve understanding.
“Nathan has tremendous energy and enthusiasm for learning, and this shines through his mentorship of his peers and through the work he does on his own undergraduate research project,” Sacco said.
For his academic excellence and service to the university and community, Bui is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Senior Award from the Alumni Association.
“Earning this award means the world to me,” said Bui, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in biological science-cell and developmental biology and graduate with the university’s highest academic honors (summa cum laude). He will participate in the 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ commencement ceremony.
Sacco, who nominated Bui for the award, added that the undergraduate researcher “truly cares and is passionate about improving everything he touches.” Sean Walker, interim associate dean for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Merri Lynn Casem, chair and professor of biological science, also supported his award nomination.
As a sophomore, Bui joined Sacco’s plant molecular biology and virology lab, where he explored the protein-level mechanisms that a group of viruses uses to inhibit a plant’s immune response at the cellular level.
“Every year, plant viruses cause spoilage of millions of pounds of crops, such as potatoes, tomatoes and turnips,” he explained. “By understanding the mechanisms behind the infection of crop plants by this group of viruses, it is hoped that future research can be applied toward the development of virus-resistant genetically modified crops, increasing crop yield in agriculture and providing food to feed more people worldwide.”
Bui, who also was named Senior of the Year by the President’s Scholars Student Association, relayed that his research experience opened up a “new world.”
“Sometimes, I would catch myself simply stunned by the beauty of molecular biology — looking at fluorescent DNA under ultraviolet light, growing blue and white bacterial colonies that turned different colors depending on their genetic makeup, and observing symptoms of viral infections in broad, dark-green leaves,” he recalled.
Working in the lab, as well as presenting his research at various conferences, helped him to develop public speaking skills — something that once terrified him — and prepare for medical school.
“Research has provided me with opportunities to read, analyze and speak about biology in ways I never thought possible,” said Bui, who served as a peer mentor and leader in biological science in the university’s Supplemental Instruction program.
After graduation, Bui plans to study for the Medical College Admission Test and apply to medical schools, with the goal of beginning medical studies in fall 2020 to become an anesthesiologist.
“I wish to one day be in a position to make an impact to help others in their recovery and return to a normal life after surgery,” he said.
Bui, the youngest of four siblings to graduate from college, added that he has received tremendous support from not only his parents, who are immigrants from Vietnam, but also from staff and faculty members, and fellow classmates. He credits them for helping him achieve his college goals.
“I’m reminded every day that the only life worth living is in the service and care of others.”