When I heard that the Office of Graduate Studies was looking for a new STARS Director, I jumped at the opportunity! It was a perfect fit as I am the product of and have extensive experience with undergraduate programs at the University of California, including STARS at UC San Diego.
I am first-generation Mexican-American. I grew up in Wilmington, CA, a working class community of Los Angeles. My father was a mechanic and my mother worked for Los Angeles County. I did not know any marine biologists or scientists. I did not even know someone who went to college. But after a fifth grade trip to Sea World San Diego, I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist.
After working at local aquariums and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum in high school, I entered the Marine Biology program at UCLA. While at UCLA, I participated in the University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program. UC LEADS prepares underrepresented students to pursue advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. UC LEADS encouraged us to apply for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. In my junior year, I decided I would ‘practice’ applying. To my surprise, I got it! It was my golden ticket to graduate school.
After receiving my Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from UCLA, I enrolled in the Marine Biology graduate program at the school of my dreams: Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UC San Diego. My dissertation research focused on the effects of turbulence on feeding and swimming in sea urchin larvae. Because of my previous experiences, I had a strong interest in involving other underrepresented students in my research. I became involved with the STARS program for the first time in summer 2006, when I volunteered to mentor Marlene Brito. Marlene is a Mexican-American woman from Chicago. It was her first marine biology research experience and my first experience mentoring. Although we didn’t accomplish much that summer, we developed a strong friendship. We kept in touch throughout the years as she participated in additional research programs and applied to fellowships and graduate programs. Currently, Marlene is following in my footsteps as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Marine Biology at SIO. In summer 2007 and 2008, I was also a Graduate Advocate for the STARS program. I mentored 5 students (10 total) each summer, many of which I am still in contact with today. In December 2009, I received my Ph.D. in Marine Biology from SIO.
After four and a half years pursuing a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Aizenberg Biomineralization and Biomimetics Laboratory at Harvard University, I decided to move back to Southern California to be closer to family and friends (and to escape the cold winters). Plus, I missed working with a diverse group of undergraduate students. Chris Murphy, whom I worked with as a graduate student at UCSD, told me about this opportunity when he found out about my plans.
I am so excited to be back at UCSD working with STARS! My goal for this summer is to continue the longstanding success of STARS. I also hope to develop and institutionalize new programming elements. But I am most looking forward to developing strong relationships with the students that will persist throughout their undergraduate years and see them into graduate programs and beyond.
Dr. Elisa Maldonado, STARS Director
Elisa Maldonado, Ph.D.