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Published Friday January 19, 2024

From A Dream To Reality – Finding My Purpose and Loving It! – Andrea Esmeralda Hernandez Pina

By Cynthia Blockburger, Lindsey Intern, SARSEF

Hello, I am Cynthia Blockburger, your Lindsey Intern with SARSEF. In this interview, you will find out how your “dreams can become a reality while finding your purpose and loving it!” Meet Andrea Esmeralda Hernandez, from Nogales, Sonora. Andrea is passionate about being a part of SARSEF and is dedicated to sharing her story and voice. Andrea attended two different high schools. For the first two years, she attended a nursing school in Mexico. She then attended Rio Rico High School in Arizona for her junior and senior years. As early as middle school, Andrea was and still is inquisitive and mesmerized by science. She quickly fell in love with all aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and most certainly Math – STEM. Andrea is the first one in her family to attend a university in the US. Today, Andrea considers herself a first-generation college student attending The University of Arizona as a freshman, double majoring in Molecular Sciences and Biochemistry. Like Andrea, I am also a first-generation college student who studied science, and we both know how exciting and challenging this experience can be.

I asked Andrea what her first real science experience was that she knew… This is for me?

I will say that it was back then in eighth grade and ninth grade. I was selected to participate in the science program right in Mexico, where I lived and studied. That program is called the Science Leadership Club for Girls, a program run by the US Consulate in my city. At that time, I wanted to just explore different branches of science, and we had classes with different professors from the US. They went all over the area in my city to teach us about different branches of science, beginning with earth science research.

I remember, particularly, my favorite class in that course. That was actually at a time when I didn’t know for certain what SARSEF was all about. It was the first time that I was in SARSEF. Our activity was a mission to save a lake in Arizona. That lake was contaminated. We had to find a solution to save the lake. So, in order to find the solution, we had to analyze the water. We researched the lake and saw what microorganisms were in the water, and to do it, we used a microscope. That was the first time in my life to see and use a microscope and see microorganisms. So when I put my eyes on the glass of the microscope, I saw those little things moving around the water with their strange shapes and colors. They were crawling and just moving around! I was like, What? I was fascinated. I knew there was a microscopic world, but I didn’t know it was like that.

The microcosms were really weird; they were moving around and were completely different from us. So, that was the first time I used a microscope and saw microorganisms. I remember perfectly that I felt an excitement that I never felt before.

I remember that I wanted to cry that day. I was so excited to see the microscope and microorganisms. I remember asking the program coordinator, Oh my, why…why do I want to cry? I didn’t understand why I felt that way, and then she said that meant that you discovered your vocation. I thought to myself, okay, this is where I should be and what I should do. This must be the field that is for me because I had the privilege that not many people have.

To feel that love for your subject is really so inspirational for other girls. Girls that look like you and look like me! To know and boldly say that you like what you’re doing and to say, “We (girls) really can do this.” Andrea is truly an inspiration for all girls.

What is one of your earlier and exciting experiences in the classroom or field research with science?

I have had an experience with a lab that I started working on when I was moving from junior high school to senior high school, which I am still working with today. Some of the experiments we have done recently are studying a protein that is found inside the fungus that causes valley fever infection. This is one of my favorite experiments because it requires using a green fluorescent to see the protein. Seeing Andrea light up again as she talks about using a microscope also brings a bigger smile to my face. She goes on to say that looking under a special microscope to see where that protein is inside special cells and the outcome has been one of her favorite experiences. Andrea goes on to say that It is very beautiful and fascinating how it works. That “it” would be all things science.

When it comes to your experience with SARSEF and your whole experience throughout science, now that you’re a freshman in college, are you finding a world with more room for you to grow?

I was so upset when I moved to high school in Rio Rico. I didn’t want to move. I was close to my family. I felt like I did not want to be here. I did not want to do anything. It took me a while to understand the idea that in order to fulfill the dreams I have set for myself. This is the path that would give me the opportunities that will let me develop a difference and make a difference. So, it took me a while to understand that, but once I got the idea, I realized there were a bunch of opportunities for me. Thanks to those opportunities, I could see myself as an eligible candidate to go into this field. Now, the University of Arizona programs, the professors, and the community across campus have made me feel welcome. I am motivated to continue buying into myself and more deeply in my field. I have had the privilege to be involved in many activities. Even though I’m just in my freshman semester of college, I’m trying to just seek those opportunities because that’s why I came here.

Tune in for “What’s Next with Andrea Esmeralda Hernandez Pina.” Her path with SARSEF continues. She embodies every girl’s dream. We are loving her journey, “From A Dream To Reality – Finding My Purpose and Loving It!”

Read Part Two Now!

About SARSEF’s Lindsey Intern, Cynthia Blockburger

Cynthia Blockburger is a highly qualified science teacher and mentor and is currently entering the final phase of her Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Arizona. She is also the Vice President of the College of Education Deans Graduate Advisory Board. In 2022, she was awarded the English Language Arts Title One School’s highest teacher-performer award for the Arizona Academic Standard Assessment. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Mathematics from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and a Master’s in Education from The University of Arizona. She is a passionate educator with over 19 years of experience working with diverse students in grades K-20, specializing in STEM and English Language Arts. Over the years, Cynthia has developed various robust and diverse science curricula by state and national standards. In doing so, she has extended and fostered positive mentor and mentee relationships with students. As a first-generation graduate student, she has worked in various graduate associate positions, such as with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Under the direction of the University of Arizona Dean Berry and Associate Dean Reyes, Cynthia has provided academic and administrative leadership to support programs in the College of Education, liaised between the college and all campus colleges/divisions, and served crucial roles in research. One of her many goals has been to continue diversifying available programs, such as the AACTE Holmes Scholar Program, to meet the needs of the extended community of learners. She has also worked with Dr. David Moore, Dr. Sara Chavarria, and Dr. Corey Knox to survey the UA campus landscape to identify where field-based or experiential programs could be more inclusive and provide a better student experience from historically marginalized backgrounds. Cynthia’s work supports research and commitment to Equal Opportunity, Diversity, and Inclusion, research findings, and possible solutions for raising awareness among mentors and organizers of field-based research, curricula, and academia. As a first-generation college graduate, she aims to empower students to love obtaining knowledge and develop the joy of striving for academic excellence with a solid foundation for learning.