It may sound cliché of me to say that if it weren’t for MESA I don’t know who or where I would be today, but it is true. One hundred and one percent of it. I graduated from Montgomery High School in 2012 with the pursuits of attending college, due to personal and economic situations I enrolled in Santa Rosa Junior College for fall 2012. Attending college was overwhelming. The new settings, the unfamiliar scenes and face takes a while to accustom. Through my chemistry courses I met Liz Leon, who to this day is one of my closest friends, and others peers. She introduced MESA and the center and I applied, was accepted, and enrolled as a MESA student within the year.
I am a chemistry major student with the goal of attending pharmacy school and obtaining my PharmD. To some of us, it may be clear what we want to do, others may still have some trouble clarifying that; and if you do know what you want to pursue, your journey may still seem a bit blurry. Joining MESA helped me become the successful, thriving professional I am today. As a Mexican-American first generation student, learning how to network, who to talk to and how, and understanding the rigorous competition in academia was both troubling and overwhelming for me. MESA provides so many opportunities for students to self-grow and interact with professionals; after four years of being in the program, I have completed nearly all of them.
For 2 years I attended STEM-Shadow Day. My first year I met a pharmacist, Nicole Robinson. I shadow her for a day at St. Jude’s Cancer Center in Santa Rosa, I was able to interact with other pharmacist’s, patients, nurses and even practice handling chemo treatment. Dr. Robinson also gave me advice about pharmacy school and connected me to a pharmaceutical company representative, which to this day I still connect with. My second year I traveled to UC Davis and visited 3 labs; one studied ecology and the other specialized in physio and neurobiology, the third, did research on biomedical engineering.
It is really important for students to connect and interact with industry professionals because these connections can help you later gain internships and help with professional networking. While in UCD and talking to Donny Williams (one of my tour guides), he connected me with the Mc Nairs Scholar Program (undergrad/postgrad research program) Dr. Jose Ballesteros. Participating in STEM Shadow Day gave me the opportunity to see what real professionals are doing and essentially, motivated me to continue pursuing my studies and career goals.
Paulina Hernandez was a member of the Latino Medical School Association and participated in MESA's annual Research Poster Project Symposium
MESA encourages you to participate in a STEM club. Joining a STEM club completely changed my life. Initially, I joined the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). LMSA is a club which supports pre-health students. In this club, we attended many pre-health conferences (in Stanford University, Berkeley and UC Davis), volunteered in community events (Day Under the Oaks, Relay for Life, Trick or Treat for UNICEF, Walk for Alzheimer’s) and did a Toy Drive for Benioff Children’s Hospital. Through these events, I was able to interact and connect with my peers, the community and other students who were also on the same path I was.
In MESA one of the workshop’s at the UC Davis pre-health conference, I spoke to an admissions representative from UCSF pharmacy school (my pharmacy dream school) and she connected me with UC Irvine’s Pharmaceutical Science’s program director also. While I was in MESA I joined LMSA and after my first year, I ran for office, and kept my position as secretary for 3 years. I also joined the Biology Club. At the end of my first year, I ran for VP; and the following year I ran for Co-President. Holding office, has really made me more responsible and help enforce my professionalism and leadership etiquette. Through Biology Club, I was able to get an internship at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato. I was working with PCR, DNA isolation and other tasks, collecting data for my PI. If MESA hadn’t pushed me into getting involved with a club, I wouldn’t have had these amazing experiences and opportunities.
Paulina Hernandez at the MESA Transfer Student Success Banquet with fellow MESA transfers in 2017
In 2015 I was offered a job supporting the MESA Center as a student employee. Working in the center taught me how to interact with people on a more professional level. Through the Deeptok program, I was offered to be Campus Leader for SRJC and a E-Coaching student. Dr. Nkansah, has become an extremely helpful and important person in my career life; inclusively she has offered to continue mentoring me through my undergrad and until I receive my PharmD. She convinced me to attend San Francisco State University this Fall and has opened UCSF’s doors for me, so I can start my network and establish relationships with professionals and students. Spring of 2017 I graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College with 2 associate degrees: Associate in Science, Chemistry and Associate in Science, Natural Sciences. I am now attending San Francisco State University and am excited about my future.