June 18, 2019

TGR Learning Lab Student Spotlight: My path toward a career in STEM

My earliest memories of the TGR Learning Lab began when I was walking down Gilbert Street from Gauer Elementary School to take part in the week-long, 5th-grade field trip. A few years later, I was back for more, enrolling in multiple classes in the after-school program.

Not long after, while attending Savanna High School, I started volunteering at the TGR Learning Lab. From there, I officially joined the staff, working in academic support for the Expanded Learning program. As an academic support staff member, I assisted middle and high school students with their homework in core subjects. Seeing them gain interest and develop a passion for STEM careers was not only rewarding but it was reminiscent of my own journey.

Monserrat celebrates the success of students with fellow TGR Learning Lab employees during a 2018 Family Night.

Being a first-generation college student comes with high amounts of pressure. I was terrified and nervous about how I was going to figure everything out. Self-doubt often clouded my mind. However, with the support of the TGR Learning Lab, as both a student and a staff member, I was able to find my footing. The TGR Learning Lab equipped me with valuable tools as I transitioned from high school to college.

As a rising senior in high school, I had the pleasure of participating in College Bound Academy (CBA) during the summer of 2014. During CBA, I learned a lot about the college processes ranging from applying to colleges to securing financial aid. Denisse Jover and Betsy Peña, who oversee the program, have served as mentors to me since I was in high school. They assisted me in every step of the college application process. Not only did CBA show me that a path to college was possible but participating in TGR Learning Lab programs exposed and guided me toward pursuing a major and career in science, specifically biochemistry.

Monserrat and her College Bound Academy cohort gathered for a photo after completing a two-week program.

I am currently a rising senior at California State University, Los Angeles pursuing a major in biochemistry. The applications of biochemistry in neuroscience have led to great advancements and my interests are driven by a passion to continue these discoveries. My interest in pursuing a career where I could fuse neuroscience and the law equates with my desire to help examine fundamental aspects of an individual’s brain and behavior to develop new drugs and therapies to treat mental and behavioral disorders.

My goal is to continue to expand my knowledge in the field of neuroscience and the law to understand the health care of individuals with neurologic conditions within the criminal justice system. To pursue these new discoveries, extensive studying and research is required. This summer, I am excited to begin a summer program at the University of Southern California where I will dive deeper into the field.

In a summer program at the University of Southern California, Monserrat participates in neuroscience studies to better understand healthcare processes for individuals with neurologic conditions.

Once I obtain my Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, I intend to pursue a joint degree program, earning a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and a Juris Doctorate degree. I plan to enter academia and become a principal investigator at a four-year university. Through the TGR Learning Lab, as well as my involvement with the Prison Education Project and America on Track, I have gained experience teaching diverse populations and environments, from high school students and inmates to mentoring youth who have incarcerated parents.

As a first-generation student and woman in science technology, engineering and math (STEM), teaching and empowering students of all backgrounds is something I am deeply committed to, and I look forward to using my own experiences to guide the next generation.

Rethinking what it means to be a champion.