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Striving to Achieve Their Educational Goals

CSU Pre-Doctoral Scholars Share Their Stories
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They may have started life with different backgrounds and experiences, but this year’s CSUF class of California State University Pre-Doctoral Scholars all share a drive to achieve and to share their knowledge and love of learning.

Maria Olivas, a master of public health major from Tustin, was born in Managua, Nicaragua. Neither of her parents attended college.

“At the age of 13, I moved from Nicaragua to the United States,” she says. “Growing up in the low-income, predominantly Latino community revealed the need to connect residents with services that addressed their diverse needs.

“For example, the lack of sex education and other health-related interventions impacted many of the decisions I made. I had my first child right after my high school graduation,” she explains. That experience has influenced every decision she’s made since, including her choice to seek a career in public health.

“My goal is to empower residents to obtain the tools they need to promote community wellness by better connecting underserved communities with organizations, such as universities, businesses, etc., that have the capacity to make an impact on health.”

While she was born in California, Nancy Vargas’ father was an immigrant without educational opportunities. The Costa Mesa resident is the first in her family to graduate from high school and college and pursue a doctoral program.

Like Olivas, Vargas also has a passion for public health. “I started volunteering as a peer health educator my sophomore year of college. Despite my health knowledge, I had a body mass index of 45 and suffered from high blood sugar, high blood pressure and asthma.”

She served three years as a peer health educator and volunteers at Riverside Community Hospital.

“By the last year of college, I had lost 90 pounds and felt passionate about the change I could make in my community. Courses in my undergraduate career helped me understand that Latinos are not innately unhealthy, but health disparities exist due to various social, cultural and economic factors. This realization is what inspired me to commit my life’s work to health promotion research.

“The public health field is constantly evolving, and new generations are needed to develop innovative ideas. Through my research, I have realized different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds are needed to provide different perspectives and values for meaningful research.”

Although she didn’t have parental college experience to guide her, Areli González of Corona has not allowed this to stop her in pursuit of her educational goals. As an undergraduate, she had the opportunity to study La 72, a refugee house on the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

“The experience gave me the ability to not only be interested in the factors producing immigration, but also the social effects on the immigrant homeland from the massive exodus of its workforce,” says the Spanish/Latin American studies major. “Being able to work with La 72 and talking with some of the people, I was able to notice the gap between academia and palpable issues in Latin America, like immigration.

“My ideal ‘life’ is to teach in a university and be part of grassroots organizations that help the immigrant community … sort of a bridge between academia and the real world.”

Nancy Chen’s passion can be said to focus on dirt, but it’s a very specific kind. The geology major from Fullerton has focused her research on igneous petrology — the study of rock formed by magma and how such research can reveal the many components that affect rock formation. “The objects we cannot see can illustrate a bigger picture of how Earth works.

“I was always fascinated with the processes that regulate the natural world,” she notes. “Igneous petrology is interconnected with geochemistry, tectonics and volcanology. All these fields affect the environment and the people who live on Earth.

“My goal is to teach geology and advise students to be independent in their thinking and to be active on campus, which will help them learn other useful skills such as teamwork and leadership.”