Awesome Alum: Kaitlyn Varela
Kaitlyn started at UTSA as a freshman in the UT CAP program but decided to remain a Roadrunner after her first semester. In spring 2020, she graduated from both the College of Sciences and the Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry.
After completing her undergrad, Kaitlyn decided to continue her education and pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the UTSA Graduate School because she enjoyed the research opportunities available in the program.
"UTSA is a diverse university with multiple paths to success," said Kaitlyn. "There are many ways to be involved in research and the STEM community."
During her undergrad, Kaitlyn was selected for the UTSA Rising Researchers program and was mentored by former professor Dr. George Negrete in his chemistry lab. This experience taught her the fundamentals of working in a lab and paved the way for a successful future in research. Kaitlyn went on to join the UTSA RISE program in 2019. In her current research role in Dr. Francis Yoshimoto’s lab, she studies the formation of endoperoxide in artemisinin, a drug used to treat malaria.
In recognition of her research contributions, Kaitlyn was recently awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program and the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. The Ford Foundation fellowship is part of a national competition by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The prestigious fellowship is only awarded to select individuals who demonstrate academic achievement and are committed to a career in teaching or research.
However, pursuing a doctorate in chemistry wasn’t always on the periodic table for Kaitlyn. When she first took Organic Chemistry I as a sophomore, Kaitlyn found the coursework to be challenging and scored poorly on her first exam. This led her to question whether she really wanted a career in STEM, much less a future in research. However, Kaitlyn made a conscious effort to overcome this discouraging moment and chose not to let it define her. Instead, Kaitlyn motivated herself to study harder and began to enjoy learning the material.
It wasn’t long before Kaitlyn developed a hunger for the unknown and wanted to make scientific discoveries outside of classrooms and textbooks. She chased after her curiosities and fell in love with learning about chemistry through research. College of Sciences professors Dr. Negrete and Dr. Aguilar helped Kaitlyn cultivate her passion by offering her the encouragement she needed to believe in herself and unlock her full potential.
After her time in undergrad, Kaitlyn now believes that other Roadrunners shouldn’t worry too much if they don’t have everything figured out from the beginning.
"All you have to do is start with what you’re interested in and go from there. Try new things and see what fascinates you," Kaitlyn said. "I found that in Chemistry and at the College of Sciences, which has now become like a second home to me."