Maria Elena Zavala, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

Dr. Maria Elena Zavala - CSU Northridge

​In 2016, California State University, Northridge biology professor Maria Elena Zavala, Ph.D., was named the first Latina fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), a professional scientific society devoted to the advancement of the plant sciences worldwide. Dr. Zavala was named a fellow in honor of her service to the society and her distinguished and long-term contributions to plant biology.

The first Mexican-American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in botany, her research focuses on the manipulation of genes as a way to improve plant productivity by enhancing root growth. She’s also studying ways to make beans more nutritious and says plant research is critical in the effort to combat hunger around the world.

Zavala has taught at CSUN since 1988 and plays an integral part in building the national reputation of CSUN’s Department of Biology as a place where students, particularly those from underserved communities, thrive and successfully pursue advanced degrees at top-tier research institutions.

She has served as the director of CSUN’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U-STAR) program since 1990 and Research Initiatives for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) since 1993. Her work as a mentor and advocate for the countless students who have gone through these programs earned her recognition from the White House. In 2000, Zavala received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Bill Clinton.