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Biology Student Paving the Way for Future Students

By Samantha Boden

When biology student Siaje Gideon was asked to write about what she wanted to be when she grew up, she confidently described being “a scantist.”

While 8-year-old Gideon’s spelling was a bit off, her desire to be a scientist came through loud and clear — and stayed with her throughout her elementary, middle and high school years. When it came time to pursue a bachelor’s degree, Gideon knew the path she wanted to take, and that path led her to Cal State San Marcos.  

“I have always loved biology and the niches of the subject,” Gideon said. “I love researching animals and discovering how they affect our world. It’s something I truly have a passion for.” 

Attending school in the San Diego area was essential for Gideon as her twin sister was attending UC San Diego and her grandmother wanted them to be near each other. Family is an important value to Gideon; one she credits originating from her grandmother. After all, it was her grandmother who took in 13-year-old Gideon and her three sisters when they became foster youth. 

“I never met my father, and my mother was experiencing mental health problems at the time, so my grandmother raised us four girls,” Gideon said. 

As a first-generation college student and former foster youth, Gideon’s adjustment to college life was anything but smooth sailing. She found herself facing failure, financial stress and strong fear of her peers and professors learning of her foster youth background. 

“I was ashamed when people asked questions,” Gideon said. “It’s hard to talk about things that hurt you, you know, especially when there’s such a stigma that comes with being a foster youth. I had to swallow my pride and accept it as being part of my journey.” 

Looking for support, Gideon explored a variety of campus resources and built close relationships with staff and faculty members. It was them who introduced Gideon to the Center for Training, Research and Educational Excellence (CTREE), a program designed to provide research and educational opportunities to students of marginalized groups. Through CTREE, Gideon conducts research alongside her mentor, professor of biological sciences Dennis Kolosov, and presents findings at conferences. 

“A lot of my science identity has been built by the people in my lab,” Gideon said. “The professors here are really good people and care about shaping students and getting those wheels turning in your head.” 

As Gideon continued to grow in the program, she found herself eager to expand her leadership skills. Her fellow peers recognized her devotion to the campus community and voted her in as the ASI representative of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In this position, she expresses student needs and collaborates with the dean to enhance the student experience. 

To Gideon, her passion for biology encompasses advocating for Black education. As a Black woman, she has experienced cases of racial discrimination and ignorance throughout her life. However, she is determined to transform these hurdles into steppingstones. 

“It’s a thing I have learned to leverage,” Gideon said. “My professors know when I miss class, they know my name, they remember me and sometimes that leads to them reaching out. As the only Black student, it’s hard to miss me.        

“Anytime I experience microaggressive comments, I have learned to build my armor and be confident in who I am. I will not let it tear me down.” 

Indeed, she lets it make her stronger. By using the tools in her arsenal, Gideon is sharing her story and striving to make a difference on campus. She joined the National Society of Black Engineers, founded the club Black in Stem and works as a peer mentor at the Black Student Center. In each of these roles, she is carving out a space for Black students to have a voice and increase chances of success. 

As a prominent leader in the campus community, Gideon serves as a role model not only to her peers but also to her two younger sisters, each of whom followed in her footsteps and are now attending CSUSM.

“My sisters, grandmother and mother, who overcame her own life challenges, are my biggest supporters," Gideon said. "They make up my village and are the greatest cheerleaders. I am so grateful to all of my loved ones for supporting me throughout my academic journey.”

It was also Gideon’s hard work and determination that led her to this semester, where she will be graduating and heading to UC Irvine to earn a doctorate in immunology.  

The challenges Gideon encountered shaped her into the person she is today, someone who values community over all else and is dedicated to increasing resources in the education system for students who experience adversity like she did.

“Seeing the stereotypes about foster youth and how the statistics just get smaller and smaller for us when it comes to attending college and graduating, and on top of being Black, you carry so much baggage,” Gideon said. “The statistics are against you.”

“But I know what it’s like to persevere. Each time I have fallen, I have gotten back up. I crawled, walked and ran the whole way to this degree, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who helped me get to this point.”

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Interim Assistant Director of Editorial and External Affairs

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314