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Research Project Earns First Place at Prestigious Conference

By Tim Meehan

A neuron is a cell in the central nervous system that transmits information to other cells.

Luis Arrioja was sitting in his high school AP Psychology class at nearby Escondido High a few years ago when the lecture turned to neurons and their role as carriers of information. The information about neurons that was carried from the teacher to the student was carried to the brain via neurons.

The irony wasn’t lost on Arrioja.

That fateful lecture sparked a curiosity in the now-Cal State San Marcos student to the point of him pursuing a degree in biological sciences and a future career in medicine and research.

In September, Arrioja presented his summer research project at the Minority Access 20th National Conference and left the event in National Harbor, Maryland, with a first-place award. He’s the first CSUSM student to win first place at the prestigious conference.

“I feel honored to have represented the campus,” said Arrioja, who is in his last year at CSUSM. “Above all, I definitely enjoyed the experience in Maryland. Ultimately, I was shocked to have heard my name being called out as a first-place winner. I do believe any experience you have, whether it’s a job or a summer program, can lead to more open doors.”

The conference is hosted by the national organization Minority Access, Inc., whose goal is to improve diversity in education, employment and research. CSUSM’s Office of Inclusive Excellence chooses students to present their research at the conference based on their work during the Summer Scholars program, which is supported by a generous gift from Viasat, Inc. With the help of faculty mentors, the program aims to introduce undergraduates to new instrumental techniques and analytical methods in STEM research.

Arrioja’s research examines the possibility of delivering selectively toxic nanoparticles to tumors that have the potential to provide new diagnostic and chemotherapeutic applications in the fight against cancer.

“At this conference, we participated in various workshops hosted by faculty from different schools across the country,” said Arrioja, who serves as vice president for the American Chemical Society CSUSM Student Chapter, as a Peer Leader in the Tukwut Leadership Circle and is a member of the Pre-Health Society. “One workshop we were introduced to tips and strategies on how to effectively present our research. Overall, I was able to learn about other students’ research projects and network with students from other schools that attended the conference such as the University of Arizona, CSU Northridge, Rutgers University and Howard University, to name a few.”

Arrioja, who also earned $1,000 as part of his first-place finish, is advised by Dr. David Bwambok, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at CSUSM. He has been thoroughly impressed with Arrioja’s enthusiastic learning style.

“Luis has made progress in research and shown exceptional leadership by training his peers with patience,” Bwambok said. “He is always curious and takes initiative to solving scientific problems and is already looking like a great scientist.”

Arrioja wasn’t the only CSUSM representative at the conference. Matilde Macedo also attended and presented her research on alopecia areata that may be important in finding a cure for this autoimmune disease.

“Matilde is a shining star in the laboratory,” said Dr. Julie Jameson, an associate professor in the department of biological sciences who also heads up The Jameson Lab on campus. “She loves to solve difficult problems through hard work and perseverance. These are the makings of an excellent scientist.”

Arrioja also works on campus at the STEM center as a tutor and as a supplemental instructor for organic chemistry.

After graduating, he intends to apply to medical school to become a pediatrician or go into palliative medicine. Due to his passion for medical research, the chemistry minor is also interested in M.D./ Ph.D. programs that provide training in both medicine and research.

Whichever direction his path goes, Arrioja knows he’ll have the knowledge and support earned at one of the most innovative universities in the state.

“I had the privilege of getting to know faculty in both the biology department and chemistry and biochemistry department,” Arrioja said. “All faculty members have been very supportive and engaged in students’ learning and future career goals. They have all been inspiring to me and motivated me to succeed and achieve my future goals.”

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