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Research Scholars Move Forward to Grad School

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Two years ago, Trini Nguyen saw herself as “an average student.”

“I knew almost nothing of research and I was horrified of public speaking and class presentations,” she admitted. This May, she will graduate with a B.A. in mathematics. Next fall, she will begin the next step in her educational journey — attending the Ph.D. program for mathematical, computation and systems biology at UC Irvine.

Nguyen is just one of seven graduating members of the Cal State Fullerton’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC Scholars program, who are seeing their educational vision achieve new heights they never imagined taking.

“Becoming a MARC scholar has made me become almost a different person now, both academically and personally,” said Nguyen. “My MARC mentors, especially Dr. Amybeth Cohen (director of the MARC program), have really pushed me to work harder to obtain higher grades. She told me I had to believe in myself, and instead of thinking I will only try to get an A, I had to think that I will get an A, and that change in mentality brought me straight A’s for several semesters, all of which were filled with difficult upper-division mathematics courses.”

The 22-year-old federally funded program provides student with wide-ranging seminars and specialized classes in addition to their regular studies, as well as being paired with some of the university’s top research faculty members, joining them in research for an average of 15 hours per week. Faculty mentors also help them develop their research findings into articles for peer-reviewed journals, scientific papers and posters presented at professional conferences.

“My increased confidence in my abilities does not stop in the classroom,” Nguyen added. “My research mentor, Dr. Charles Lee, pushed me to write and debug my own code. Because he is not a professor that likes to ‘baby’ his students, I found his mentoring to be difficult at first but now I can accept any programming challenge as I did at my summer program last summer.”

Nguyen, like other MARC scholars, took part in full-time summer research at institutions throughout the country. She took part in and University of California, San Diego Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS) program. “Because of the lessons I learned from Dr. Lee, I excelled. I also have showcased my research skills at several conferences and competitions, in which I have won several awards.”

“I am incredibly proud of myself for coming such a long way in two years, and I definitely could not have earned my achievements without the guidance of MARC,” Nguyen said. “Every time I am offered a chance to hold a talk or presentation now, I am thrilled by the opportunity, since it only means another chance to show others what I can do.”

“We know that we have been successful when we place undergraduates into respected graduate programs and ensure their success. Over the years, everyone who has gone on, has completed an advanced degree,” said Cohen. “As hard as we have been on them, our graduates really feel that they have a leg up because of the program.”

In addition to Nguyen, this year’s graduating class of MARC Scholars, their degrees and the graduate institutions they will be attending in the fall:

  • Alexis Drain, B.A. psychology, University of Delaware’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Collin Marshall, B.S. biochemistry, University of Michigan Program in Biomedical Sciences
  • Julia Ngo, B.S. biological science–molecular biology and biotechnology, Biology graduate program at the University of Oregon
  • Janice Reynaga, B.S. biological science, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Graduate Group at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Isabel Serrano, B.A. mathematics-applied, Computational Biology Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Jessica Barragan, B.A. in psychology, is considering participation in a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP).

The MARC Scholars program is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Earlier this year, CSUF was awarded a five-year grant to continue the program.