Cal State L.A. graduate headed to pursue Ph.D. at Caltech

June 19, 2015

Mary Arrastia, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and mathematics in the Honors College at Cal State L.A., is turning her passion for science into a career in research.

She will continue her research at Caltech, where she will pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry under an Earle C. Anthony Graduate Fellowship.

The 22-year-old Buena Park resident came to Cal State L.A. as a math major, fueled by an interest in AP calculus and statistics during high school. But she quickly picked up a dual major in chemistry after developing a fascination with scientific research. While at Cal State L.A., she participated in a summer research opportunity in Sao Carlos, Brazil. The eight-week trip was part of the International Research Experience for Students summer program offered at Cal State L.A.

Her experience there sparked an interest in health-related research.

“Hands down, my most memorable moment was the eight week summer research trip to Brazil,” said Arrastia, who plans to become a professor.  “I was able to explore my horizons both intellectually and culturally, and most importantly, it allowed me to experience the research life to its fullest.”

Arrastia visited a number of laboratories during the summer program, where she saw for the first time a particle accelerator and a 3D printer. She also tested methods to determine whether patients have diabetes.

The trip was led by Chemistry Professor Frank Gomez, whom Arrastia described as an outstanding adviser, mentor and role model. She said she would not be headed to Caltech if it were not for the guidance of Gomez.

“He’s helped me build confidence in myself through the presentation of my research at numerous conferences and publishing my results in peer-reviewed scientific journals,” she said. “I am so grateful to him for everything he has done for me, and my choice to attend graduate school and earn my Ph.D. in chemistry has a lot to do with him and the opportunity he gave me to conduct research in his laboratory.”

After returning from Brazil, Arrastia continued her research and presented the results conducted with Cal State L.A.’s lab team during a National American Chemical Society conference. The work was published in two academic peer reviewed journals.

“As a budding scientist, excitement builds within me whenever your professor allows you to present your results at a scientific conference, or even better, when your principal investigator decides it is time to publish the findings,” she said. “These are achievements that I thought were not possible until my graduate school years, and having these accomplishments made me feel like a part of the scientific community.”

A member of Phi Kappa Phi national honor society, Arrastia also received an honorable mention in the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. She was vice president of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Club, service director, webmaster and co-president of the Golden Key International Honour Society, and vice president of external and internal affairs for the Academic Honors Association at Cal State L.A.

“The Honors College and Cal State L.A. have given me the opportunity to become a more well-rounded individual and scientist,” she said.  

Photo: Mary Arrastia, right, receiving this year's Outstanding Honors College thesis award from Trinh Pham, interim director of Cal State L.A.'s Honors College. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State L.A.)

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