During my sophomore year of high school my mother was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythmatosis and I was forced to work to help support my family. I dropped out before I took any real science classes. Later on, I enrolled at El Paso Community College but was unable to attend classes regularly due to my mother’s illness. Eventually we were able to control her condition with diet and proper medication and I was allowed to again focus on my education. I was a social work major at the community college and had to take two semesters of a science class to fulfill a requirement. I chose biology and fell in love with it. Despite a lack of exposure to the sciences, I excelled and earned an A in the class. I have received A’s in all related classes since I changed my major to microbiology.
In the fall of 2001, I enrolled in a general microbiology class, taught by Dr. Maria Alvarez, who is the director of the MBRS RISE program. The following semester I applied to the RISE program and was accepted. My research project dealt with selection and optimization of protocols for a study of the mycobacterial ecology of the Rio Grande River. We used PCR, RFLP analysis, and other molecular techniques to identify and characterize environmental mycobacteria. We also worked on identifying environmental parameters that effect the proliferation and persistence of environmentally derived non-tuberculous mycobacteria. This opportunity fueled my desire to pursue a career in biomedical research.
I continued as a research student throughout my tenure at El Paso Community College. Upon transferring to the University of Texas at El Paso, in the summer of 2002, I was retained by the RISE program as a tutor/mentor.
I participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP) Summer Bridge Program, which is designed to facilitate the transition from the community college to the university. I was selected to work in the laboratory of Dr. Kristine Garza. My project focused on the effects of synthetic organic compounds on the proliferation, activation, and function of primary lymphocytes. Once the program was completed, I applied to several of the research oriented programs that the university offers. I was especially interested in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program because the program would provide me with enough funds and benefits to allow me to leave my second job at Wal-Mart and focus on my academic pursuits. When I asked about the program, I was told that there were no openings available. However, I applied anyway and was overjoyed when they accepted me.
I also spent a summer at the National Institutes of Health doing a research internship in the laboratory of Dr. Mathew Daniels. I was assigned a small project, which focused on a protein called agrin and whether glycosaminoglycan side chains affect function, especially with regards to induction of formation of filopodia in muscle cells. I also tested the efficacy of plasmids which encoded shRNA designed to inhibit expression of agrin. I learned a lot from Dr. Daniels, who has been a scientist for many years. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with him and learn from him. He was an incredible mentor.
I know that in this highly competitive field I will need to have experience in order to compete successfully. As a Hispanic single mother, I have struggled to overcome many obstacles to pursue an education. I have worked very hard to get where I am now. I know that it is my persistence and tenacity that will carry me to my goal. It is only through the experience and support of programs such as MBRS RISE, that I have been able to remain in school and successfully conduct research. Thanks to these opportunities I have been able to attend local and national scientific conferences and present my research. I attended the 2003 annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and won an award for an oral presentation that I gave. I have had the opportunity to visit the National Institutes of Health, and met prestigious researchers from around the world. All of my experiences as a research student have fueled my desire to pursue an advanced degree that will allow me to conduct biomedical research as a career.
I am determined to continue my education and obtain a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences so that I may continue to conduct research. I am most interested in fields if science that directly benefit human health and welfare. It is my dream to contribute to the elucidation and control of autoimmune diseases.
Jamie graduated with Honors from UTEP and is now a third-year Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Update. Jamie successfully defended her doctoral dissertation and graduated with a PhD. in Immunology. On December 2010, her work was submitted to a peer reviewed journal for publication.