Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo conduction research in a lab.

Tragedy Sparks Inspiration

Monica Alarcon


Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo conduction research in a lab.

​In summer 2018, Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo was supported by the Sally Casanova/CSU Pre-Doctoral program and National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award to participate in a research internship opportunity at the University of Florida. Here she is photographed in the lab of Dr. Josephine B. Allen (Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering) where she conducted her summer research.



Some moments have a profound impact on our lives. Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo said her most impactful moment in her life happened at the age of 10 years old. It was then that she lost her grandmother to cancer. This was a heartbreaking experience for Gabriela because she was very close to her. She painfully remembers seeing her suffer through the pain of cancer and feeling helpless. This deeply bothered Gabriela and as a result, she became determined to become a doctor and help as many patients as she could to fight against diseases.

This path took its course after she migrated with her family from Peru at the age of 14. Here she was able to obtain the higher education that she would need to explore the professional medical career that she so passionately wanted to obtain. However, it was not an easy road for Gabriela. She had to overcome many challenges before she could immerse herself in her dream of attending college.

Gabriela grew up in a rural jungle area of Peru called San Martín de Pangoa. Her educational experience was quite different than those who attended school in the cities. When her family arrived in the U.S., they resided in Los Angeles, California. She describes attending school as a culture shock. She was used to living in a smaller town and in less dense population. This fast paced and more crowded LA lifestyle was something she had to adapt to. She also experienced a huge language barrier because she did not speak English. She recalls this time being extremely difficult for her and admits that it took her a long time to feel comfortable speaking the language. Even with a language barrier, Gabriela was able to excel in high school. In fact, she was the salutatorian of her 2010 graduating class. She credits some of her success at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center because of the school's demographics and empathy of her teachers.

The school's student and teacher population were largely Latinx and many were bilingual in English and Spanish. When the curriculum became too difficult for her to understand in English, she felt lucky that many of her teachers were able to help her understand the class materials in Spanish. This really made a difference in her high school education and provided her the opportunity to learn and unlock the pathway to attend college.

Gabriela was accepted to California State University, Northridge (CSUN), University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of California, Riverside. She decided to attend (CSUN) because it was more financially affordable and close to home. These were two major decision factors for her when selecting a university to attend. Gabriela is very family oriented and centered. She wanted to continue to help her family while attending college. Attending CSUN provided her the opportunity to do both without feeling like she had to choose between her family and her education, because both are important to her.

Once she started CSUN, she wasted no time and immediately began the biology program on campus because it was the recommended path for pre-med students. Gabriela was happy at CSUN and enjoyed the learning environment. However, she still had her language barrier to overcome on campus. She recalls having to make herself feel comfortable speaking English because she knew she would not have the same high school experience on campus. She knew most of her professors would not speak Spanish. She acknowledged feeling fearful that her language barrier would impede her educational goals at CSUN. But she did not let that fear drive her outcome at CSUN and instead became involved on campus through biomedical research programs such as NIH RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement), NIH MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers), the CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine), and the CSUN-UCLA Stem Cell Scientist Training program. These programs provided her the guidance and mentorship she needed to excel and succeed at CSUN. They also strengthened her desire to become a physician-scientist. She began to focus less on her language barrier and started to get involved in her surrounding community. In her senior year at CSUN, she was accepted into the highly competitive Sally Casanova/CSU Pre-Doctoral program.  Gabriela graduated from CSUN with a BA in Biology in 2017. She is currently attending San Francisco State and will graduate with her MS in Cellular and Molecular Biology in spring 2021. 


​Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo with her family during the CSUN's Honors Convocation which recognized her for being an outstanding and distinguished graduating student.   ​

Gabriela has found her second home at San Francisco State. She no longer struggles with a language barrier and feels incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to learn from talented San Francisco State faculty. They have supported her and encouraged her to continue her educational journey toward medical school. At San Francisco State she is involved both within and outside the campus community.

One of her highlights at San Francisco State was the new BIOL 331, Research with Communities course offered in spring 2020 by Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magana of the Biology Department. This course made a huge impact on her and strengthened her ambition to become a physician-scientist. This course took place early in the pandemic and her class projects inspired her to create COVID-19 infographics in Spanish. She saw how Spanish speaking communities were being severely impacted by the pandemic. She used the skills, tools, and information she learned in BIOL 331 to help people in those communities who needed support and resources. The infographics urged people to follow the CDC guidelines and abide by social distancing measures. Most recently, she also used these skills to help the San Francisco State Biology department and the San Francisco BUILD program organize an informational webinar about COVID-19 vaccination. This webinar was open to the public.

Other highlights involve her research experience with Biology Assistant Professor Dr. Mark Chan. The research project title is "Optimizing Cell Factories: Understanding the Role of Vacuolar Size in Biochemicals Concentration." She has been optimizing cells factories for industrial applications. The overall goal of the project is to engineer specific properties of organelles within the cells to improve biochemicals​ yield. Her organelle of interest is the vacuole. Her key contributions have been showing how vacuole size and time would impact the production of compounds of interest. She is also working on establishing a method to extract enhanced compounds out of the vacuole and out of the cell.

Her commitment to science and community are seen through much of her time at San Francisco State and via her involvement with the university SACNAS chapter. SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM. She has been a member of the San Francisco State SACNAS chapter since 2018 and was co-president May 2019 to May 2020.  SACNAS is an organization she sees herself continuing to volunteer for in the future. She wants to continue working with freshman STEM students at San Francisco State and K-12 students. She wants to “awaken the science curiosity in children" just like she experienced at 10 years old. She wants to continue to spread the message that no matter who you are, where you come from, and the “little" knowledge you think you have about science that everyone can learn in STEM fields. And most importantly that everyone can achieve their goals within these fields even when they have major barriers to overcome.

Gabriela will be applying to MD/PhD programs soon and is hopeful she will be accepted. If she is not, she will lean on her determination, as she has so many times in her past, and reapply until she succeeds. Her determination to become a physician-scientist has strengthened during the pandemic. Now more than ever she wants to help communities, especially those which she considers to be most at risk in health disparities, and to fight against diseases.

Gabriela Lucia Alvarez Azanedo​'s ​LinkedIn profile:ñedo