11:18 AM

Biotechnology Student Follows Passion for Research

By Bri Phillips

Gilda Castellanos came to Cal State San Marcos as a member of the university’s women’s golf team, and her family thought she would one day play professionally because it’s been a passion of hers since she was 6. 

But during the pandemic, the team stopped competing competitively, and it changed the trajectory of Castellanos’ plans for her future career. Castellanos started to prioritize her coursework, and her interest in biotechnology started to grow, which ultimately led to her leaving the golf team. 

“I was very lucky to find my interest in biotechnology, and the pandemic allowed me to transition into doing research now,” Castellanos said. “But I still golf. I love it. I think from a very young age, I was interested in the field of medicine and I think I didn't know what that meant at the time. But being able to get exposed to some of the classes, as well as talking to faculty, I was able to understand that my interests align with bioengineering and biotechnology.”

Castellanos was recognized in the summer of 2021 as one of 11 students in the CSU to receive the CSUPERB President’s Commission Scholar, which is a program to help financially support undergraduate students conducting research in the biotechnology field. Castellanos also visited Tokyo in January as part of a Bioscience Beyond the Borders course where she attended labs and lectures and visited various STEM industries. 

Castellanos learned about the President’s Commission scholarship from one of her professors, but they didn’t have enough space for a lab. Castellanos expressed her interest in the biotechnology field to biology professor Carlos Luna Lopez, and he happily agreed to support her research and grant for the President’s Commission Scholar program. 

Castellanos moved back home to Tijuana to be with her family during the pandemic. She still came to campus to attend Lopez’s lab, but she would have to leave home an extra hour early to cross the border to get there on time. 

“I was excited to do this research grant with him,” Castellanos said. “I worked hand in hand with him writing the grant, and we got it. Then I started doing my work in this lab. The research specifically for the grant was to study cancer metastasis, specifically breast cancer.” 

Since receiving the honor, Castellanos has worked with Lopez ever since. Together, they fabricated microfluidic devices to study the formation of 3D cellular spheroids to help understand cancer cells.

“Gilda is an amazing student with an unrelenting drive to succeed,” Lopez said. “Her positive attitude, strong work ethic and dedication are contagious and serve as an example to what our undergraduate students can achieve. She approached college with a career-focused mindset and was willing to put in the hard work necessary to go into a top three graduate school in bioengineering.” 

Castellanos’ hard work and dedication has landed her a spot in UC San Diego’s graduate program where she plans to study tissue engineering.

“I know that if I didn’t receive the grant or networked with the professors or met Dr. Lopez, I think it wouldn't be possible to get into UCSD,” she said. “My life definitely changed when I stopped playing golf and prioritized that as my career. It was a big loss in my life. But golf really helped me transition to my new pathway.”

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