Maria Zarate Espinoza is a first-generation Mexican-American and first-generation college student from Guanajuato, Mexico. She immigrated to Aurora with her parents when she was 5 years old. She graduated from West Aurora High School in 2018 and enrolled at Waubonsee Community College that fall to study science. Early in 2020 she applied to and was accepted into the Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students (PRECS), a paid 10-week biology research program at Parkland College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The program gives students the opportunity to learn laboratory and research skills at the University of Illinois.
Only 10 community college students are selected for this program each year so being chosen “felt surreal” to Espinoza.
“It was a big reminder that anything is truly possible through hard work and dedication. It allows me to demonstrate that young Latinos like myself are eager for knowledge and in search of a higher level of education,” said Espinoza.
Unfortunately, the PRECS program was canceled this year because of the pandemic, leaving Espinoza unable to conduct the research that she had planned to do. Despite this, she is not discouraged.
“Applying for the program alone was already a decision that helped me grow academically and personally. Although I was disappointed that the program was canceled, knowing that I got accepted has boosted my confidence in my education. It has taught me that stepping out of my comfort zone can be scary, but also rewarding,” said Espinoza.