Name: Antonio Tinoco Valencia Cal State LA Graduation Date: June 2015 Undergraduate Major: Chemistry
Current Institution: University of Rochester in Rochester, NY Field of Study: PhD in Organic Chemistry
Name of award and a brief description:
The Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship Program seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. The awards are made to individuals who have demonstrated superior academic achievement, are committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level, show promise of future achievement as scholars and teachers, and are well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Ford Fellows are awarded a yearly $24,000 stipend for a maximum of three years, and are eligible to attend the Conference of Ford Fellows, a unique national conference of a select group of high-achieving scholars committed to diversifying the professoriate and using diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students
What are your future career goals?
After completing my doctorate, I plan to obtain a post-doctoral training in medicinal chemistry, and ultimately pursue an academic career in both research and teaching. I aspire to become a Professor of Chemistry at a research university. I hope to mentor students of diverse backgrounds, and to motivate their intellectual and career interests in the chemical sciences. I was very fortunate receive such great mentorship throughout my undergraduate career at East Los Angeles College, and especially at Cal State LA. My former research advisor, Professor Alison McCurdy, helped to spark my interest in interdisciplinary research, and inspired me to pursue a career in chemistry. She’s really a prime example of all the amazing faculty and staff that make Cal State LA such a special place.
What inspired you to apply for this award?
I was drawn to the Ford Foundation Fellowship because of its strong commitment to diversity as a resource in teaching. The program goals really resonated with my professional aspirations and interests. I first heard of the fellowship at the Fall 2014 American Chemical Society National Meeting and when I read the program announcement brochure, it was as if the brochure was calling my name! Although the fellowship is one of the most selective in the country, I was not deterred but rather excited for the opportunity to apply.
What was the most challenging part of the application process?
Writing the ‘personal statement’ section was the most challenging. I worried that my writing wasn’t eloquent enough and that I was merely ‘check boxing’ all the items that the statement prompt required of me. At the end, I told myself that all I needed to do is to share my story and present my authentic self the best I possibly could. It took a couple of months, a writing boot camp, my professors’ and friends’ very useful (and very appreciated) critiques, and many drafts later to give the best rendition of my personal statement.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
First, apply as many times as the fellowship program will allow you! I applied in the fall of my senior year at Cal State LA. It was stressful balancing grad school applications, classes, research, work, and fellowship applications. Even though I wasn’t awarded the fellowship that year, the application experience gave me a lot leverage when I applied the second time around as a grad student at Rochester. I became familiar with the three statement prompts (previous research experience, graduate research proposal, and the personal statement), and I felt more confident about the strength of my application at the end.
Second, regarding the personal statement, don’t be afraid of being real and true-to-yourself while writing and sharing your story! When I first began writing my personal statement, I left out certain details of my personal and academic life thinking they would ultimately make me a weak candidate. Once I integrated those details into my personal statement, I realized how they strengthened my story, and my application as a whole. Early in the writing process, I lost sight of the importance the fellowship placed on the diversity in human experience. Luckily, I was able to share a narrative that best represented who I am, where I came from, and my potential to adapt my experiences in developing my pedagogy.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I think people would be surprised to know that it took me nearly 7 years to complete my undergraduate degree. It was a long and challenging path, but it shaped me into the individual I am today. Some people would also be surprised to know that I’m an undocumented student, and that I’m the first undocumented graduate student in both Department of Chemistry and in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester. This opportunity has given me the privilege to serve as the active voice of the millions of undocumented immigrants who work hard every day to make our country ever better. I hope to create a pathway for the following generations of undocumented students wishing to pursue graduate school. It is humbling to think that when I began my undergraduate studies at East LA College, I never thought I would to transfer to a four-year university, let alone attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry. I hope my story can demonstrate that we can accomplish much more than what we think we’re capable of. All it takes is a dream, good mentorship, and hard work.