Alumni showcases post-undergraduate research

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) virtually hosted three graduate students who presented their research to Otters on April 21 in “Research y Cafecito.” Each graduate student conducted research in different fields, and they all attend different universities. Despite currently attending different colleges, they are all undergraduate alumni from CSUMB. 

Daniel Olivares began the presentation. Currently earning his master’s at California State University, Los Angeles in marine biology, Olivares plans on entering into the doctoral program at University of Southern California to continue pursuing nautical science. Having participated in different labs during his time at CSUMB, Olivares found a summer research opportunity at University of Colorado, Boulder called the SMART program, where he feels his education flourished. 

“My lab was an ecotoxicity lab that studied questions on how parasites infect other animals and natural ecosystems,” Olivares said. 

Olivares used his techniques of examining host-parasite interactions by extracting parasites from newts. Another summer research project presented itself to him from Penn State, where Olivares was able to implement physiology and molecular biology into his work – something he felt was missing from his previous findings. 

Progressing from newts, Olivares studied toxins in animal nervous systems and exposed them to deadly neurotoxins, in order to accurately observe basic animal nervous systems and their resistance to neurotoxins. 

“With this research, I was able to observe how a poisonous or venomous animal would be resistant to their own neurotoxins,” Olivares said. “They will kill us, but they won’t kill them.”

As Olivares transitions from graduate school to his doctoral program, he looks forward to developing further research surrounding coral and sea anemones. 

Speaking after Olivares was communication studies student Ari Perez Montes. Montes – who identifies as queer, trans and Latinx – graduated from CSUMB with a communications and ethnic studies degree, with a minor in psychology and now attends the University of Maryland, pursuing a communication science track. 

“There are two truths about me,” Montes said. “I knew I wanted to be a professor, but I didn’t know how or where to start.”

As a first-generation college student, Montes turned to UROC and found the proper resources for obtaining research and graduate school information. Having first been exposed to service learning, Montes discovered the initial passion of wanting to teach and discovered an interest in developing research correlated to oppressed groups and the LGBTQ community. 

Focusing on how oppressed people can become oppressors in their own group, Montes constructed their research by looking at how microaggressions, race, gender and sexuality come into play for the LGBTQ community and minorites. 

“I wanted to know how microaggressions manifested within the LGBTQ community,” Montes said. “[To look] at how a queer or trans person manifests microaggressions towards other queer or trans people.”

Montes completed an autoethnograhy for their capstone project at CSUMB, where their love for qualitative methods started. Now at University of Maryland, Montes has continued their qualitative research and is basing their seminar paper off of algorithms, looking deeper into how algorithms are inherently racist and contribute to biases.

The last graduate student to speak was Alexandria Taylor Cervantes. Cervantes is a local from Salinas and earned her undergraduate degree from CSUMB in mathematics. She now attends University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to obtain an advanced degree in mathematics. 

“After I found my love for calculus, I always had the question: ‘why did it take me so long to love math?’” Cervantes said. “I started working at the Hartnell math academy, and then my question turned into ‘why does it take people so long to love math, and how does societal systems impact how they experience math?’”

Even though she’s spent most of her graduate career back home in Salinas due to the pandemic halting in-person classes, Cervantes has been awarded two grants to further her research in underrepresented and marginalized students in engineering. Looking to transform how society views math and to alleviate educational anxieties in her community, Cervantes looks forward to making positive impacts towards math and education in her hometown and surrounding areas.

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