Program Awards Five Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars from Los Angeles

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Alliance/Merck Ciencia Hispanic Scholars Selected, Supporting Future Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields

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Five remarkable Hispanic students who graduated from Los Angeles-area high schools and have commenced their college careers this fall were announced as Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars. According to Dr. Jane L. Delgado, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, “These students will redefine the frontiers of science. I have no doubt they will be the next generation of Nobel prize winners, lab directors, professors, and health professionals leading scientific discovery that improves our health and well-being.”

Each Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholar recipient will major in a STEM field and will receive up to $42,500 in college scholarship and summer research internship support over the next four years. In addition, the Alliance announced that 25 Hispanic college students majoring in a STEM field are recipients of a $2,000 Ciencia National Scholarship to help them complete their education.

The local scholars announced today are three students who are pursuing college degrees in bioengineering: Marlen Castro, a graduate of Wallis Annenberg High School; Jocelynda Salvador, a graduate of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School; and Luis Torres, a graduate of South East High School. The fourth student, Lisbeth Rojas, a graduate of James Garfield High School, is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering; and the fifth student, Danielle Vazquez, a graduate of Venice High School, is pursuing a degree in biological sciences.

In their applications, these students wrote about the family members and mentors who inspired and guided them, as well as their aspirations for degrees and ultimately careers in the STEM fields.

Castro earned a 3.6 GPA while participating in the National Honor Society, playing varsity basketball, competing for her school’s science bowl team, and volunteering at the California Hospital Medical Center. Castro intends to major in Bioengineering and is particularly interested in conducting research to find cures for autism and Down syndrome. She is midway through her first year at the University of California – Riverside.    

"The Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars Program showed me the bright light at the end of the tunnel. It came at a time where my education seemed uncertain because of financial obstacles, however it gave me the hope and confidence to keep on fighting and to not give up on my dreams because I realized that there were those who believed in me and my potential."

Salvador earned a 3.7 GPA while playing the saxophone and the piano, teaching children about Mexican dances, and interning at a University of Southern California research lab. She was selected to represent Los Angeles at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. She plans to study Engineering and continue to pursue her interest in research with the ultimate goal of attaining a Ph.D. She is midway through her first year at the University of California – Irvine.

"The Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars Program made it possible for me to go to college without having to worry about if I could afford it,” said Salvador. “I believe this program will help give me confidence to continue on my path as STEM major and help prepare me for my next step when I graduate."

Torres earned a 3.95 GPA while participating in MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) regional competitions in robotics, jet propulsion, playing soccer, and completing community service in the Los Angeles area. He plans to study Biomedical Engineering and is highly motivated to participate in cancer research. He is midway through her first year at University of Southern California.

"The Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars Program was awarded to me at the best possible time; it relieved my parents from paying a large sum for my college education,” said Torres. Now I can continue my education without worrying about my parent's bank account. I'd like to thank my college counselor, high school teachers, and most especially, my parents for always supporting and believing in me, for providing me with resources, and for going out of their reach to care for me."

Rojas earned 3.96 GPA while participating in several youth leadership and mentoring programs and serving as a doctor’s assistant. She intends to major in Mechanical Engineering. She is committed to her educational goals and hopes to contribute to the advancement of Latinas in higher education and engineering.    

"Receiving the Alliance/Merck Cienca Scholarship has been a great blessing to me,” said Rojas. “The best form I have to repay this great help is by excelling, which I am now very confident I will do, thanks to this amazing scholarship."

Vazquez earned an impressive 4.0 GPA while playing varsity soccer and softball, working as a sports trainer, and performing community service. She intends to major in Biology and wants to get involved in research. She credits the strong women in her family as her role models and her inspiration to become an orthopedic doctor and give back to her community.

"Winning the Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholars Award not only allowed me to focus on my schoolwork instead of working to pay tuition, it also showed me that someone believes in my ability to achieve my dream of helping those in my community through medicine," said Vazquez.

The Alliance/Merck Ciencia (Science) Hispanic Scholars Program is made possible by a $4 million grant from The Merck Company Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck, a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. This is the largest grant to date that The Merck Company Foundation has made in the field of Hispanic education. The Alliance, along with its supporting arm, the Health Foundation for the Americas, is partnering with The Merck Company Foundation to implement the program.

Today’s announcement marked the fourth of five groups of Ciencia Scholars. Over a five-year period, the program will provide a total of 50 promising Hispanic high school students from Brownsville, TX; Elizabeth, NJ; and, Los Angeles, CA, with up to $42,500 in college scholarships and summer research internship support to pursue STEM degrees (up to $20,000 in scholarship, and up to $22,500 in internship support). The program will also feature mentorship opportunities and an annual Ciencia Scholars symposium. In addition, a total of 125 Hispanic college students with a declared major in a STEM field will receive $2,000 scholarships. More information is available at http://www.AllianceScholars.org.

NOTE: The application period for the 2012-2013 scholarship application cycle is currently open. The deadline for all completed applications is March 31, 2013.

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About the National Alliance for Hispanic Health
The National Alliance for Hispanic Health (the Alliance) is the nation’s foremost science-based source of information and trusted advocate for Hispanic health and well-being. The Alliance represents thousands of Hispanic health providers across the nation and provides services to more than 15 million annually, making a daily difference in the lives of Hispanic communities and families. For more information, call the Alliance’s Su Familia National Hispanic Family Health Helpline at 1-866-783-2645 or visit http://www.hispanichealth.org. Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/healthyamericas). Follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/health4americas).

About the Health Foundation for the Americas
The Health Foundation for the Americas (HFA) is the support organization for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. HFA encourages philanthropy that invests in the human and social capital of community-based organizations that deliver innovative solutions for health and well-being in the Americas. For more information, visit http://www.healthyamericas.org.

About the Merck Company Foundation
The Merck Company Foundation is a U.S.-based, private, charitable foundation. Established in 1957 by the global research-driven pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc., the Foundation is funded entirely by the Company and is Merck’s chief source of funding support to qualified, non-profit, charitable organizations. Since its inception, the Merck Company Foundation contributed more than $524 million to support important initiatives that address societal needs consistent with Merck’s overall mission to enhance the health and well-being of people around the world. For more information, visit http://www.merckcompanyfoundation.org.

Alliance/Merck Ciencia (Science) Hispanic Scholars Program
2012 Alliance/Merck Ciencia Scholar Profiles – Los Angeles, CA

Marlen Castro
Wallis Annenberg High School, Los Angeles, CA
Engineering

Witnessing her mother’s struggles provides inspiration to become a doctor and set an example for her community. Marlen Castro, 18, graduated from Wallis Annenberg High School in Los Angeles, California. She received a 3.6 GPA while participating in the National Honor Society, playing on the varsity basketball team, fundraising and event planning for the Student Government Association, planning senior activities as a part of the Senior Committee, and competing for her school’s science bowl team. She has also volunteered at the California Hospital Medical Center in the pediatrics department and emergency room, supervises first graders at an after school program, and helped with planting and harvesting in her school’s garden. Marlen intends to major in Bioengineering so she can become acquainted with the human body, its processes, and its functions. Her teachers describe her as highly intelligent yet modest, motivated, and a hard-working student with high aspirations. It is rare when someone from her community attends a four-year university, but Marlen knows education is key to avoiding a life of struggle she sees so often around her. Her goal is to become a doctor, and she is particularly interested in pediatrics. She wants to perform research to find cures for birth disorders like autism and Down syndrome while providing inspiration to those in her community to get ahead.

Lizbeth Rojas
James A. Garfield High School, Los Angeles, California
Engineering

Wide variety of careers in engineering sparks interest in the field. Lizbeth Rojas, 17, graduated from James A. Garfield High School in Los Angeles, California. She received a 3.96 GPA while participating in Girls Today Women Tomorrow, a leadership mentoring program that encourages minority girls to go to college, the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project and San Gabriel Forever Leadership Program, interning at Camp Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, volunteering at the California Science Center, and serving as a doctor’s assistant at Kaiser Permanente. In addition, she helped out at Nuestro Future Daycare and Eastman Early Education Preschool and volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles. Lizbeth plans to major in Mechanical or Civil Engineering. Her teachers describe her as dedicated, confident, humble, and a driven student with a thirst for knowledge unlike her peers. Lizbeth understands that in areas where students lack the resources to pursue larger educational goals, extra support can help bridge the gap, and that is why she is committed to encouraging her siblings and young teenagers to expand their minds through math and science. While the idea of helping engineer safer buildings and vehicles excites her, she also hopes to better the perception of Latinas in higher education and in society.

Jocelynda Salvador
Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, Los Angeles, CA
Engineering

Outnumbered but not outsmarted, a young woman studying engineering seeks to pave the way for others. Jocelynda Salvador, 17, graduated from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, California. She received a 3.7 GPA while playing both the saxophone and the piano, performing in the jazz band and at community events, participating in dance performances and teaching younger children about native Mexican dance, and serving as historian and treasurer for the National Honor Society. Jocelynda is also the only high school intern working at a University of Southern California research lab, and she has been studying lipid membrane and behavior at different concentrations of fluorescent dye. Additionally, she had the honor of being selected to represent Los Angeles at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. She plans to study Engineering and continue taking part in research. Her teachers describe her as mature, insightful, tenacious, and a driven individual with a broad curiosity and diverse intellectual interests. She has felt overwhelmed at times being a minority interested in engineering, but her family has always been supportive of her plans, and she has never lacked motivation in paving the way for Hispanic women in engineering. She is not yet sure which type of engineering she would like to pursue, but a main goal of hers is to attain a Ph.D. one day in whichever field she enters.

Luis Torres
South East High School, Los Angeles, CA
Engineering

Looking out for family’s health leads young man into a career in biomedical engineering. Luis Torres, 18, graduated from South East High School in Los Angeles, California. He received a 3.95 GPA while serving as president of Interact Club, a community service group that volunteers at many events in the Los Angeles area, participating in MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) regional competitions in robotics, jet propulsion, and more, and counseling peers to discuss college requirements and answer college-related questions. He is also the team captain of the San Jose Soccer Club, an active member of the National Honor Society, and he works with his father as an electricians’ assistant during the summers. Luis plans to study Biomedical Engineering with the goal of helping families live longer and healthier lives. His teachers describe him as self-disciplined, persistent, ambitious, and a leader who will not settle for less than his best. When his grandmother passed away unexpectedly from pulmonary cancer, Luis not only became motivated to reduce cancer-related deaths but also to work toward avoiding these losses by encouraging loved ones to get regular check-ups. In addition to performing research on cancer and other diseases, Luis wants to raise awareness of health issues affecting his community and establish free clinics in areas where they are needed.

Danielle Vazquez
Venice High School, Los Angeles, CA
Biological Sciences

Commitment to family paired with passion for science leads a young woman to pursue a career in medicine. Danielle Vazquez, 17, graduated from Venice High School in Los Angeles, California. She received a 4.0 GPA while playing year-round club soccer and on her high school’s varsity soccer and softball teams, assisting fellow athletes and classmates as a student athletic sports trainer, and volunteering at the school library. She was also very active in the community and volunteered at St. John’s Hospital in the oncology department and at the Venice Family Clinic as a medical records assistant, participated in beach cleanups at the Playa Vista and Venice Beach with the Heal the Bay organization, and was a member of St. Augustine Church’s Youth Group. Danielle plans on majoring in Biology and getting involved with a human physiology research project. Her teachers describe her as strong-willed, well-rounded, exceedingly bright, and a phenomenal student with a deep intellectual curiosity. Danielle’s grandmother was an important figure in her life, and her unlucky fate had a great impact on determining the course of Danielle’s studies. After losing a battle with stomach cancer, her grandmother inspired her to become a doctor so Hispanics in her community do not live with the same fear of seeking medical help that her grandmother did. The strong women in Danielle’s family are her role models, and she hopes to attend medical school, become a doctor specializing in orthopedics, and give back to her family and community.

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Marcela Gaitan
National Alliance For Hispanic Health
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