· Core Leader, Student Training
· PhD in biology
· Professor of Biology, SF State
Carmen is used to challenging the status quo and committed to righting wrongs. Although she once wanted to be a flight attendant so she could visit her family in Venezuela and Spain, brain surgery was more her speed – outrageous and challenging. Carmen, who is bilingual and first-generation American, is one of the five architects of the grant, and comes to SF BUILD with an energetic commitment to providing opportunities for students to "taste the excitement and fun of doing science."
Her parents influenced her intellectual development and strong sense of justice. Her father, from Barcelona, Spain, studied to be a Jesuit priest then switched to electrical engineering. He worked as a math teacher in the day and attended UCLA at night to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, and helped to raise his 3 children. Carmen's mother encouraged her to be independent and find a career that would allow her and her sister to "break away from the male-dominated environment that was typical of the environment her mother grew up in." So Carmen majored in biological sciences with the thought of becoming a medical doctor. After volunteering at a local hospital, she quickly learned that she preferred lab research.
Marie Curie was Carmen's role model, not only for Curie's ability to successfully study physics and radioactivity in the male-dominated field, but also for winning the Nobel Prize twice (physics and chemistry)! It was Marie Curie's perseverance against the odds that inspired Carmen. But Carmen's road to a successful research and teaching career was not easy. She was not well prepared for college. She attended a high school that, quite frankly, didn't send many students to college, so Carmen navigated the college application process on her own. Her high school teachers were surprised when she was admitted. Despite her talent, her teachers had rather low expectations of her. But college was another obstacle Carmen took on headfirst. She was unfamiliar with the overwhelming culture of conservatism, wealth, and entitlement she was surrounded by at UC Irvine Juggling several part-time jobs and needing to study long hours meant that it took her time to feel confident at UCI (looking back she did have some friends who lived with her in the dorms). Her curiosity for science led her to join research labs at the undergraduate level, which helped open her eyes to other career avenues in addition to medicine.
Carmen's current research focuses on how muscle tissue is built during vertebrate embryogenesis. She loves and excels at teaching and doing research in the lab with students. For the past 6 years Carmen has run the NSF REU summer program for undergraduates and the CIRM BRIDGES GRADUATE PROGRAM in stem cell biology. Both programs are designed to increase the diversity of students interested in pursuing a career in science.
As she reflects on stereotype threat, Carmen recalls pushing against the low expectations others had of her. She rebelled against them, determined to prove them wrong. She surrounded herself with a strong group of diverse friends. When doubt crept in and feelings of not belonging were hard to ignore, she talked with her family and friends. "I did not encounter a single Latina/o professor at UC Irvine the entire time I was there. I never went to office hours and I did not know any of my professors other than my research mentor. I felt like an outsider." To overcome stereotype threat Carmen believes her ability to "put on blinders when necessary" and focus on her research project helped her succeed.
When not in the lab, you might find Carmen hiking, biking, or spending quality time with her daughters and husband.
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