Scholarship supports Latinx Gators pursuing careers in STEM
SF State is the most represented university in the 2022 cohort of the Latinos in Technology Scholarship program
“I was the first in my family to ever go to a four-year [college]. As a Latina, I’m very proud of myself,” said San Francisco State University student Carmen Vargas Velazquez. As the youngest in her large Hispanic family — around 25 aunts and uncles — she says her drive in science stems from her experiences with her family.
Vargas and 10 other San Francisco State students are among the 52 recipients of the 2022 Latinos in Technology Scholarship (LITSI) from the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley (HFSV). With 11 awardees, SF State is the most represented university in this year’s cohort and ranks third in scholarships received between 2016 and 2021.
The program provides Latinx STEM students with up to $10,000 in annual financial support for up to three years plus professional development and internship opportunities. This year’s SF State recipients are in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science and Engineering.
“Honestly, I just think [LITSI] has made my college experience so far a lot easier, and it just doesn’t feel so difficult trying to find space [in the field],” said Vargas, a third-year in Cell & Molecular Biology who is only a few months into the program. She says HFSV’s network already helped her navigate professional development, interviews and networking. The confidence she’s gained even led her to earn a coffee date with SF State President Lynn Mahoney.
“I had to remind myself that I am a first-gen student and I kind of have to pave the way for myself,” said Vargas about her college experience which started during the pandemic.
Everything from applying for and starting college to moving away from home has been intimidating. She explains that she didn’t have guidance on early college prep while in high school. Plus she grew up hearing negative stereotypes about Latinas and discouraging statistics about women in STEM.
But Vargas wanted to study biology and is particularly interested in studying reproductive medicine and women’s health. Some of her motivation grew from her childhood experiences being a translator between her mom and doctors.
Meeting people via LITSI and other University scholarships and mentorship programs (METRO, SEO, Latinas in STEM, AMWA) helped Vargas quell some of her imposter syndrome. Lessons she learned in the LITSI program helped her land her first research opportunity in Biology Professor Diana Chu’s lab studying sperm and embryos.
“That investment that [HFSV] made in me is not only playing out now through my investments in other young STEM professionals. But the work continues and is going to continue for generations to come,” said SF State and LITSI alumnus Joseph Hernandez (B.S./B.A., ’22). He recently started working for the Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) at the University of California Davis Health performing qualitative research and disseminating COVID information and resources to community-based organizations.
Vargas actually met Hernandez at an informational LITSI seminar and says his feedback was instrumental in her own application.
For Hernandez — an aspiring physician — it is all about community. He double-majored in Cell & Molecular Biology and Latina/Latino Studies at SF State. He hopes that bringing cultural context and empathy into health care will promote larger cultural shifts.
“Health comes in a myriad of forms,” he explained. “From my personal experience and from the mentors and teachers who I’ve learned from, I want to take those teachings and really transcend healing.”
Hernandez struggled in community college because he lacked the necessary resources. He came to SF State determined to change his trajectory. But he was hesitant to apply for LITSI because on paper, he fell just short of the eligibility requirements.
“I actually reached out and talked to [HFSV], and they said, ‘We’ll open it for you.’ I was able to explain my life, circumstances and everything,” he said. Not only has Hernandez successfully graduated, in 2022 he was the keynote speaker at the annual HFSV ball.
“I think what’s important is to explain your vision, because it’s not only about what you’ve lived but also the direction you want to take your experiences,” he concluded.