Mayra Silva Barcenas

CSUSB Senior: Adapting and Excelling in Various Learning Environments

Monica Alarcon


Mayra Silva Barcenas

​Mayra Silva Barcenas in front of the Pfau Library taking a graduation picture.



Mayra Silva Barcenas was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, immigrated to the U.S., and grew up in Upland, CA. At an early age, her parents stressed the importance of education. Despite living very modestly, they took time off to celebrate every graduation because it was important to her parents. Mayra and Eduardo wanted to make sure that Mayra and her brother, Luis, valued their education and prioritize it. Prioritizing education was a point of emphasis for Mayra's father because he could not continue his education in Mexico. Her father had to prioritize work to support his family financially. Thus, when he and his family came to the United States, he knew he wanted his children to focus on school. He wanted Mayra and her brother to prioritize all the educational opportunities they would encounter. She is grateful for her parents' sacrifices because their sacrifices allowed her to walk a path full of educational opportunities.

Mayra recently graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, with a BS in Biochemistry. Her last year as a senior in college was different than other prior seniors at CSUSB. Her graduating class had to shift into a virtual education setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020. Like so many other CSU students, she was unsure of what to expect with the new educational platform. However, she was determined to succeed and adapted quickly. She felt that her senior year was her most engaging year at CSUSB.  She found that the remote learning platform was an environment she could indeed pivot in.

Mayra pivoted because she could fall back on her preferred learning style of being more independent and having an asynchronous curriculum. She was always a self-learner, so the asynchronous curriculum provided her the tools necessary to succeed during her senior year. She felt confident within the virtual classroom environment. As a result, her participation within her classrooms increased. In addition, Mayra felt more comfortable connecting and communicating with her professors online about curriculum topics and future academic goals. She admits that her previous years at CSUSB were not as engaging and attributed that to being independent in her personality and being an introvert. The virtual learning environment helped her shine and engage in ways she did not think she would be able to. But it wasn't always easy for Mayra.  She explains that her transition from high school to college was tough.

There were some personal struggles she had to overcome. Being the independent and self-learner that she was, she found it difficult to navigate her academic life. She thought she could figure it all out on her own: read her books, excel at her classes, and graduate with a degree. She soon realized that she could not only rely on her self-learning abilities to excel in her classrooms. Mayra knew that she needed to adjust her mindset to navigate college and succeed in her classrooms successfully. She had to adapt to her new learning environment, which meant challenging her introverted personality and self-learning style.

In her first year of college, she struggled with simple things such as attending her classes and being on time. She would often skip class because she would read in class instead of listening to her lectures. She missed critical instructor lessons and created an attendance issue which began to reflect in her grades.

Reflecting on her freshman year, she thinks a lot of her behavior was due to her personality. She learns very quickly, and at the time, she did not want to prioritize things like attending class if she was learning the material. However, after her grades suffered due to a lack of class participation, she quickly understood that class participation was essential to college success.

With persistence, self-motivation to succeed, and a constant reminder that she was there because of her parents' sacrifices, she was able to shift her mindset and grew into new learning habits on campus. Although it was difficult, and she continuously struggled, she achieved success through her growth. A growth that came with a newfound maturity and ability to adapt to her new surroundings.

Mayra's new personal growth allowed her to focus on what degree she should want to obtain. She quickly developed a passion for organic chemistry and enjoyed how it intellectually challenged her. She focused on her chemistry courses and began to thrive.

Mayra was doing great in her academics and when the shift to remote learning took place. She succeeded because she enjoyed learning asynchronously. It better suited her natural way of learning. It allowed her to experience new academic opportunities and develop close mentorship relationships with some of her faculty.

During her senior year, she developed a strong mentorship connection with one of her professors, Dr. Joyce Pham. Dr. Pham encouraged her to try new educational opportunities, and as a result, she was motivated to apply to the Edison STEM-NET Student Research grant. Mayra admits she may not have applied to this grant pre-pandemic because she may have never come across the opportunity. She received the grant award and had the chance to present her research at the May 7th, 2021 Edison STEM-NET Student Research Symposium. Her research topic was "Electronic Structures and Atomic Site Preference of γ-Brass Type Pseudo-Binary Mn2Zn11-Ni2Zn11". It was her first time participating in a student research symposium, and she loved her experience. She now wants to continue research opportunities in the future.

As she reflects on the time she spent at CSUSB, she firmly believes that the CSUSB college experiences taught her about integrity, community, creativity, and leadership. She sought to make the most significant impact possible in her family after learning that her parents did not have the college opportunity she had. And although she had some challenges to overcome, she is proud of her four years at CSUSB.

Now that she has graduated, she plans to continue working this summer on the research she presented during the May 7th Edison STEM-NET Student Research Symposium. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree program in Biotechnology or a Ph.D./ MD. She is also enrolled in a cybersecurity certificate program this summer. She is excited for the next chapter of her life to begin and use her training to make a positive global impact.

Mayra's advice to CSUSB first-year students is to work on their degree with pride; ups and downs will happen but be flexible and adapt. And most importantly, be proud of your efforts every day. No matter the hurdles, trust that you can complete your degree.​

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