Emily Rosa pictured at Sonoma State’s 450-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve
Story Student Success

Sonoma State’s Emily Rosa: ‘I Started Seeing Myself as a Young Scientist’

Emily Rosa

When Rosa began doing research in plant architecture and biodiversity in her junior year at Sonoma State, she never thought she’d end up winning a prestigious research internship at Harvard University.

Emily Rosa pictured at Sonoma State’s 450-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve

Student Emily Rosa's favorite place to spend time is Sonoma State's 450-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve, situated at the top of Sonoma Mountain. She has gathered plant samples for research there and also led elementary school children on educational tours of the preserve. Photo courtesy of Emily Rosa


"I was born in Hawaii and grew up in California. Starting at 4 or 5 years old, I'd go snorkeling and swimming in the ocean, and the fish would swarm around me. But around the time I was in high school, I wouldn't see even one fish while I was swimming and snorkeling. It made me wonder what had happened in the ocean. This change sparked my interest in going into environmental studies in college.

During high school I looked into a couple of schools and decided on Sonoma State after a campus visit. The campus was pretty small and the professors seemed to be really engaged with their students. I like how I can just go into professors' offices and talk with them. I know everyone in my classes, and that's nice, always seeing friendly faces.

I decided to major in environmental studies and planning, with a biology minor. My junior year, I was talking to my bio advisor, who said I should get some research experience. So I went to the SSU biology website to figure out who I'd like to work with. I saw the faculty page for Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Patrick Bentley, Ph.D., and she was doing research on plant ecophysiology, [the study of the interrelationship between the normal physical function of an organism and its environment] and that was most interesting to me. I walked into her office and asked her if she needed help with research, and she said yes.

the harvard internship was an amazing opportunity to see the endless research options that my CSU degree can allow me to pursue.

I helped Professor Bentley with her research on the relationship of tree architecture and scaling patterns on plant biodiversity.

Professor Bentley also introduced me to The DaRin Butz Foundation Research Internship Program at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. This program offers undergraduates in the life sciences the chance to conduct research from start to finish and present it, while gaining training and connections among scientific colleagues.

Professor Bentley encouraged me to apply and she also contacted a researcher she knew at Harvard to help me with my research during the 10 weeks. But it was in Boston, so I first thought, That's so far away. But I applied and was one of eight interns accepted for summer 2017. At Harvard, I continued the research on tree branch architecture.

Going into the DaRin Butz internship, I had a mix of emotions; I was excited, scared and nervous. It felt like the first day of college all over again. As soon as I arrived at the Arnold Arboretum, though, all my anxieties were quickly put to rest. Working with the arboretum staff was a treat; they were always willing to help and seemed like they really wanted to see the interns succeed.

We would meet twice a week for intern meetings, one in which we would get to meet with other scientists working in a wide variety of research. This was an amazing opportunity to see the endless research options that my degree can allow me to pursue. We also had a meeting once a week were we would talk about our research project, scientific papers we'd read, and discuss a book we were reading. It was fun to discuss other interns' projects and see their research.

Working with Dr. Kasia Zieminska on my research was amazing. She showed me a wonderful balance of work and fun. She really helped me gain confidence and allowed me to start viewing myself as a young scientist. I was very inspired by her dedication to her work and her ability to think creatively.

Since I got back from Boston, I've helped Professor Bentley get her lab set up and I'm showing other students in the lab techniques from my internship. I'll work the rest of the year with Professor Bentley and I graduate in May. After college, I want to get a little work experience in before I go to grad school. I want to work for a nonprofit or the government. After that, I might like to go back to Hawaii for grad school. But there are also cool professors in Boston, so I may go there. Sonoma State has provided me this opportunity to seek out so many other opportunities." 

Emily Rosa's Tips for Getting the Most Out of College

  • Be open to all majors and all schools.
  • Talk to and build relationships with your professors.
  • Get involved with groups, organizations or programs and stay involved.
  • Remember that building relationships is super important and makes the whole college experience more enjoyable.