“Being a first generation student and daughter of immigrant parents, I wanted a campus that would provide me with enough resources and opportunities for me to thrive in my future endeavors,” said Biochemistry major Monique Perez. Whittier College gave her exactly what she needed.
Being able to thrive academically was a key factor in choosing where to go to college. The opportunity to thrive interpersonally, as well, made Perez look to WC as her college of choice. “I knew that a small campus and class size would allow me to ask more questions and build relationships with the people around me,” said Perez. Attending a much larger college would likely have made Perez feel more like a number than an individual, she thought.
Before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez was part of a research team at the College for two years. She has been conducting on-campus research with this team and the help of her advisor, Professor of Chemistry Devin Iimoto. She applied to two Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs, both funded by the National Science Foundation, with the help of Elizabeth Sanchez, who is the STEM Fellowships and Internships Coordinator of WC’s Advancing STEM Academic Program Office. Unfortunately, Perez was only able to participate in one in her second year despite being accepted to two, as the second was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Perez was also part of the Neuroscience Initiative to Enhance Diversity program from University of California, Davis. Thanks to a former WC student, Jasmin Cao, and Associate Professor of Biology, Associate Professor Sylvia A. Lopez-Vetrone, Perez was also part of Global Medical Brigades in Panama.
Dr. Iimoto and Sanchez were both fantastic sources of support for Perez, as well as a number of other professors in the chemistry department. Associate Professor of Chemistry Christina Bauer and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ralph Isovitsch have, like Dr. Iimoto and Sanchez, collectively helped Perez grow and achieve her goals. “I couldn’t have done everything without them,” said Perez.
Other professional staff members on campus have similarly helped Perez throughout her college career — specifically, the Career Center. Perez worked there for four years, first as a Handshake Connection Collaborator, and now as Lead Handshake Admin. Her coworkers and advisors at the Career center “have truly believed in [her] and have always provided a positive encouraging environment,” said Perez.
Following her graduation from Whittier College, Perez would like to take a gap year; she will use that time to apply to graduate schools and work in a lab. Although she is not sure which programs she would like to apply to at the moment, she does know that she is interested in the areas of neuroscience and biochemistry. “I really enjoy learning lots of new things, and I ultimately don’t mind the specific program I get into as long as the research they conduct is interesting and meaningful to me,” said Perez.
It happens quite often that people will major in something to do with the sciences, and go as far as to earn a PhD in that field, just to end up doing something completely different. Perez is well-prepared for this to happen, and does not mind what she studies or researches so long as she truly enjoys what she is going. Her main goal is to contribute to our understanding of how and why something works in whatever area of study she ends up in. “In the end, my two major goals in earning a PhD is [one, to] help enrich our understanding of science to bring about progress within the field for the benefit of others — including human beings or our planet — and [two, to] help diversify the STEM field being a woman of color and being of first generation,” said Perez.
During her time at Whittier College, Perez dealt heavily with imposter syndrome — which deals with doubting your own abilities and feeling like a failure. There were times, throughout her college career, that Perez felt like she did not belong in the community. She would also come to doubt herself on various occasions only to find out that she did just fine in whatever task she had been so unsure about. “I think it prevented me from fully believing in myself and would cause a great deal of anxiety on top of all these other things I had to do,” said Perez.
Luckily, she was able to be open and honest about her feelings rather than bottling them up, so none of these emotions really weighed her down. “I think it’s important to know that we aren’t alone in our struggles and know that there are a lot of people around you who care,” said Perez.
On top of remembering that you are not alone, and that you are capable and worthy, Perez has the following message for current and incoming Whittier College students: “Take all the chances you can and always try to step out of your comfort zone by doing things that challenge you in some way or form. I guarantee they’ll bring you the most satisfaction and you’ll grow the most from these experiences. At the same time, do things that seem interesting to you or that you are passionate about because it’ll always be worthwhile to you, even when you encounter obstacles.”
Feature image: Courtesy of Monique Perez.