Photo of Alejandra Garcia

Alejandra Garcia: The Power of Self-Determination Along with Positive Guidance and Mentorship

Monica Alarcon


Photo of Alejandra Garcia

Alejandra Garcia on the campus of California State University, Fullerton


​​​​​​​​Alejandra Garcia is a first-generation college graduate.  She received a B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Cellular and Developmental Biology and minored in Chemistry from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Her story is one of resilience and fortitude.  She neither thought she would graduate from college nor obtain a Biology degree from CSUF. Her younger self did not see this in her future, yet, she always remained determined to build a more positive, purposeful, and impactful life for herself. Along with her determination she had great community support that helped guide her incredible educational journey. 

Her story starts in Mexico where she was born. She migrated to the United States when she was two years old and lived in Tustin, Ca. She was a DACA student until she became a permanent resident at the age of 17.  At that same time, she also found herself having to take a year off after high school because she became a mom. Although, she was happy to be a mom, she also knew the challenges that came with it. She feared it would limit her ability to achieve her educational and financial goals. She expressed being depressed during this time because she knew in her heart she could accomplish much more and feared those dreams and goals would never be realized. 

During this tough time in her life, she leaned on those who always supported and mentored her through good and tough times, her parents. They knew her journey would be difficult, but they also knew she had so much to give to the world. They supported her educational choices to help her find her happiness and accomplish her goals. With her parent’s support, she was able to return to school and enrolled at Cypress Community College.

Her first year at Cypress was emotionally difficult. She had feelings of doubt, fear, anxiety and often questioned if she belonged. She admits that her first year was a trial and error experience. She had no guidance, did not know where to seek it or where to find useful resources to help her. She felt her first year was wasted on taking random classes. For example, she recalls having to take remedial math courses. She remembers taking these courses because she failed her math placement test when she first applied to Cypress. At that time, Alejandra did not know she could study for the placement test and take it again. Today, she knows that if she would have retaken the placement test, she would have studied and passed which would have led her to a more productive first year in college.

After a year and a half at Cypress she started to wonder if college was for her. This all changed when she met a group named (STEM)2 at Cypress. The (STEM)2 program is designed to help students reach their potential by creating unique career, educational, scholarship and transfer opportunities that will aid their future successes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (STEM)2 changed Alejandra’s life. She found a new sense of belonging on campus, her passion for biology, and a community ready and willing to help guide her educational path and choices.

In addition, she was able to meet one of her lifelong mentors, (STEM)2 Director Yanet Garcia. She remembers Yanet being very supportive. She recalls her first interaction with Yanet where she asked her why she wanted to join the (STEM)2 program. Alejandra recalls being very honest and stating, “because I do not know what I am currently doing in college”. She remembers Yanet responding to her with a smile and told her “well this is the right program for you”. From that moment forward, Yanet Garcia became one of her most impactful mentors and has continued to help guide her educational and professional journey.

After Alejandra graduated from Cypress in spring 2017, she knew she wanted to transfer to a 4-year university to continue her biology education but was unsure what campus she would choose. After seeking advice from Yanet, she applied and attended a summer CSUF 8-week program titled The Undergraduate Research Experience hosted by Project RAISE. During these 8 weeks, she was exposed to undergraduate research. She admits feeling intimidated by the workshops and the other students research skills.  Again, feelings of doubt and whether she belonged in such a program arose. She was not sure if she was a good fit for the program and felt like an imposter, but she did not quit. Instead, she leaned into the experience and found that she really enjoyed doing undergraduate research. Alejandra also admits that her experience in the program was also positive because of the lab she was assigned and the PI, Dr. Maria Linder, whom she worked with. Her experience in this lab and connection with Dr. Linder helped Alejandra find her new educational home at CSUF. She applied and was accepted to CSUF.

During her time at CSUF, she continued to be very active in RAISE and build a strong mentor relationship with Dr. Linder. Alejandra admits that her first year was tough because, like before, feelings of not belonging arose. However, she expressed that even though she felt anxious, she also felt better equipped to deal with these feelings. She is thankful that she was able to receive excellent guidance from Dr. Linder whom she believes became a crucial part in her educational and research success at CSUF. 

She remembers that during her second semester Dr. Linder signed her up for a research CSUPERB conference for undergraduate STEM students and, although Alejandra felt unready for the experience, she really enjoyed it. She is thankful that Dr. Linder encouraged her during a time when she had so much anxiety about belonging. In fact, she enjoyed the experience so much that she was inspired to apply and become a part of LSAMP CSU Fullerton Chapter where she took part in many more research conferences. LSAMP gave her a $5000 scholarship that allowed her to attend the Experimental Biology Conference in Orlando, Florida. There she met Dr. Zair Ibragimov who is the Director of LSAMP at CSUF. He also has become a great mentor to her.

She credits her experiences with (STEM)2 and Project RAISE along with the strong mentor relationships she built with Ms. Garcia, Drs. Linder and Ibragimov to help get herself out of the “imposture syndrome” mindset that would sometimes slow her educational journey. With these experiences, the support of her family and mentors, she was able to lean into her education and passion for biology and graduated with her degree at CSUF in May 2020.

Her parents are very proud of her. She is the first in her family to obtain a college degree. Unfortunately, because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, she was not able to have a normal graduation. Nonetheless, she celebrated on zoom with her friends and family where they played cards against humanity online.

Currently, she is taking time off school, but has plans to do either a dual program to do her master’s and PhD or just a master’s program. She knows that she wants to continue conducting research and work in an academic setting. For now, she is happy to be working for Project RAISE as a staff member and give back to the program that gave her so much and help STEM students along the way. Her message to new STEM students is “don’t give up, pursue your dreams and look for mentors and you will succeed.”