Liz Cervantes
Liz Cervantes, Senior Biochemistry Major
By Ryan Schoensee

Community is essential to the college experience. It gives students a sense of belonging and encourages us to achieve goals greater than ourselves. For Liz Cervantes, community is personal.

Cervantes is a biochemistry major from Richmond, Texas. She is part of the RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program. RISE is a federally funded program aimed at increasing the number of faculty, students, and investigators in biomedical sciences from underrepresented communities. Cervantes credits this program with her academic and personal success.

"I was surrounded by people who were really high-achieving, and they pushed me to do that, too," Cervantes said. "That's why I try my best to be like them, and it's always been a very empowering community. They motivate you. ... Having this network is awesome because you will always have your friends."

Cervantes is passionate about the importance of representation in the scientific community. As a first-generation college student, she appreciated that the RISE program allowed her to learn about academia from people who understood her background.

"We all go through this struggle together," she said. "You may not see yourself represented when you go to a Ph.D. program, but if you want to be the change you wish to see in the world, you have to go through that struggle."

The RISE program also helped her get out of her comfort zone and improve her public speaking skills. At the college's spring 2021 Undergraduate Research Showcase, she won first place in oral presentation and placed second in the three-minute thesis competition for her research on the potential of biochar, a charcoal-like substance, to retain pathogenic bacteria.

Cervantes' experiences at UTSA have led her to success beyond San Antonio. This past summer, she participated in a prestigious neuroscience program at the Mayo Clinic to conduct behavioral studies on zebrafish. Although Cervantes was excited to join the program, she said she was intimidated at first.

"I have to remind myself that I earned this, and I earned my spot," she said.

After graduating this fall, Cervantes intends to pursue a Ph.D. and continue her work in biochemistry, either in the biomedical industry or in academia. Regardless of where her work takes her, Cervantes hopes to give back to underrepresented communities and inspire other minorities to pursue STEM fields, just as she did.


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