Cal State Dominguez Hills Senior: Unveiling the Scientist Within Her

Monica Alarcon


​Maria De La Torre at a WISE seminar at California State University Dominguez Hills, were Ishe was able to host an information center booth as a Recruitment Coordinator for the COPE Health scholars program.



Maria De La Torre is a senior majoring in cellular and molecular biology at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). She grew up in a household of five siblings (Yadira, Samantha, Jovanni, Melanie, Israel) and her parents, Yajaira and Florentino, in Compton, California. Her parents valued education and wanted their children to focus on school and do their best. They made many sacrifices for their children to ensure they received the best education possible. When Maria was in high school, her parents decided it would be best to transition her to an independent learning center, Opportunities For Learning, because they felt this would better suit her health needs and would provide her the flexibility of being absent when she needed to be. Although the transition was initially tough, she was able to adapt and flourish. 

Independent studies… Independent study was an excellent option for Maria. It improved her academic performance, increased her motivation and confidence, and provided her greater awareness of her limitations and how to manage them. During this time, she developed creativity and intellectual curiosity about her studies especially in science. In high school, she joined the Girls Who Code club.  This club exposed her to coding, html, python, developing websites, and the Pre-Health Society club at CSUDH. She was also in the COPE Health Scholars Program where she had the opportunity to intern at Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center and help monitor patients' blood pressure. She was able to experience firsthand how technologies could help the healthcare system by utilizing technology to provide services to patients and collect patient data more efficiently. This experience inspired Maria to go into a STEM field.

“I thought science was only for men"… Growing up, she thought science was only for men. She very seldom heard or learned about women scientists. She never thought a woman could partake or contribute to science. In addition, she never thought someone like her, a Latina, could be a scientist. It seemed like an impossible dream for her professional aspirations. However, her perception of science started to change in high school. The more she was involved in STEM clubs and projects, the more Maria began saw that women could be great in science. She came to the conclusion that one day she would be a great scientist. When she arrived as a freshman at CSUDH, she knew she would pursue a profession in a STEM field.  

Prepared for the college transition…. Her independent studies experience helped her have a smooth and easy transition to college. Maria's freshman year was successful because she was already used to working independently, had developed good time management skills, and had excellent study habits. She was ready for the academic challenges that college would bring her. Since her freshman year she has taken 15 units a semester. During the pandemic, Maria took 18-course units to keep herself proactive and busy. In her second year of college, she took an introductory course in biology with Dr. Shehla Pervin. This class sparked her interest in research.

For the love of research…. She became a member of the Women in STEM Education (WiSE) program which is designed to attract middle school through college-level female students to STEM, with an overall goal to help address the national need for more women in STEM jobs. She began to look for opportunities to meet and greet professors with research labs. As a result, she met Dr. Philip Vieira, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, and joined his lab. Maria began shadowing him and conducting experiments with other lab team members, Tania and Stacy. She learned immunohistochemistry techniques by slicing and staining rat brain tissues to isolate specific brain structures. In addition, she also became part of Dr. Previn's lab through the Substance Abuse and Research Training (SART) program at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine. Maria worked on the "E-Cig Induced Tumor Growth on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer" project. She looked at 468 Cell lines, a slow-growing tumor, to understand how the tumors grow when induced with an e-cigarette. Her passion for research grew and she soon joined the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program to pursue more opportunities.


1st generation college graduate… As a first-generation college student, Maria wants to make sure first-generation young women know the many resources and opportunities that will benefit them in their undergraduate career at CSUDH. She is dedicated and committed to ensuring more women enter the STEM fields. She wants to change the perception that science is only for men and include as many women as possible in the science space. Last year, she started a coding club on campus called Girls Who Code College Loops. She enjoys developing workshops and hosting social events for the club. Her goal is to increase women's involvement in STEM field by creating a safe and social place for young women.

Future goals… Currently, Maria is focusing on completing her senior year at CSUDH and graduating. After graduation, she wants to continue to ensure all women can contribute and take part in STEM fields. She plans to pursue her research work in the future through a Ph.D. or M.D. program. Maria is looking forward to spending quality time with her family during the holidays and making tamales and Banuelos with her grandmother and mom. In addition, she looks forward to the downtime to spend some time on her hobby, writing poems. Poetry helps her relax and ease her mind. It is a good distraction during her fall finals. She enjoys writing and has published four poems within the English department's magazine on campus.


Maria De La Torre

Contact Information:

[email protected]

If you wish to read her poems, you can find them here: