CSUN Students’ Hard Work Rewarded With Acceptance to Doctoral Programs at Stanford

  • Brenda Velasco and Malachia Hoover

    Brenda Velasco (left) and Malachia Hoover (right) will diversify Stanford's PhD program as women scientists. Photo by Natalie L. Camacho.

Matadors Malachia Hoover ’14 (Cell and Molecular Biology) and Brenda Velasco are matriculating at Stanford University to pursue their Ph.D.s. Both students are part of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research programs at California State University, Northridge.

Hoover, who is part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, said receiving acceptance letters from Stanford, University of Southern California and Yale, among others, validated her hard work.

“I feel like [the acceptance letters were] confirmation that all of my hard work was finally being recognized by major faculty and top-tier universities,” Hoover said.

Hoover’s CSUN mentor, Jonathan Kelber of the Department of Biology, has known Hoover for more than four years and said that she stood out as a student because of her numerous publications.

“Malachia has already had co-authorship on one paper, she’s had first authorship on another paper, she’s got a second first-author paper that we’re working [on], and she’s going to be on at least two [more],” Kelber said. “She’s been very prolific in terms of research productivity, which made her an outstanding applicant.”

Velasco, who is in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, said she was really nervous during the application process and was excited to find out she was accepted into Stanford, University of Michigan and University of California, San Francisco.

“I [thought] ‘what if I don’t get in? What am I going to do next?’ I was really nervous to not get in anywhere, so I was really excited when I got in,” Velasco said. “I’d be the first person in my family to be getting a Ph.D., so I’m hoping that’ll help motivate my younger cousins to try to go to college, even if they don’t get a Ph.D.”

Mary-Pat Stein of the Department of Biology mentors Velasco in the MARC program and has known Velasco since 2013. Stein said Velasco stands out because of her efficiency and determination.

“She’s efficient and very effective in the lab, and she is somebody who wants to succeed. It’s just written all over her face,” Stein said. “She came to me and wanted to do this. She just keeps pushing herself. That’s somebody who really deserves every accolade we could possibly shower upon her.”

MariaElena Zavala, director of the MARC and RISE programs, said, “It is a great privilege to help students achieve their academic and professional goals.”

Both Hoover and Velasco felt that CSUN’s MARC and RISE programs provided them with opportunities to help them achieve their goals.

Velasco emphasized the influence that the MARC program had in her professional development as well as the help she received during the application process.

“If it wasn’t for the MARC program, I don’t think I would have been prepared to go into a Ph.D. program or even apply to a Ph.D. program because I had no one to teach me,” Velasco said. “No one in my family knew how to do it, so not only did MARC provide the funding, they provided me with the ability to do research and the professional development to learn how to do research.”

Hoover stressed the financial help RISE offered during her work as a graduate student, but also pointed out the integral role her community played in supporting her dreams.

“Being part of the RISE program was a huge help,” Hoover said. “They were able to support me, so I didn’t have to [be a teacher’s assistant] as much or work off campus. This helped a lot because it allowed me to focus on my research.

“My community (including family, friends, and community members) played a big role in my Ph.D. application process,” she added. “They helped me raise $1,500 through GoFundMe. That helped me pay for all the application costs.”

Hoover and Velasco are both in the biological sciences, for which Stanford “pretty much funds everything,” Velasco said. “Your tuition is paid for, your health insurance is paid for and you get a stipend, which should be enough to cover your meals and your housing.”

Hoover and Velasco will be starting their path to a Ph.D. in the fall of 2017 and left current undergraduates at CSUN with words of encouragement.

“We need more scientists that come from minority backgrounds,” Hoover said.”[Anyone] can be a scientist through hard work and mentorship.”

“Don’t be afraid to do things outside of your comfort zone,” Velasco added. “Always reach for the sky.”

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