If he has “seen further than other men,” Isaac Newton once said, it was because he “stood on the shoulders of giants.” And so it is with me. I find it difficult to express the deep appreciation I have for the people who impacted my life. My parents—proud, hardworking, resilient people—gave me my start in life. My father helped build the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and later served with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution, before coming to the United States to work on the railroad. My mother, orphaned at an early age, was a reilera (a soldier’s wife who accompanied her husband on military campaigns in the Mexican Revolution), until her first husband was killed at the Battle of Torreon. Because of their families’ poverty and the tumultuous nature of the war, neither of my parents had a formal education. Both migrated to the United States where they met, fell in love, and began our family.
Living in a converted boxcar, they traveled throughout the Southwest, with my older brothers being born in places like El Paso, Texas; Deming, Arizona; and Niland, California. Realizing the importance of education for their children, my parents settled in the small town of Tranquillity, California, so they could build a permanent home and their children could get an education. This is where many of my siblings were born and raised. Of my older brothers, four volunteered and fought in the Second World War, two in Korea, and one in Vietnam, and all were decorated for valor in battle. My sister is an activist who fought to assist Chicanos and other underserved people in achieving the American Dream. I honestly believe that I have a family of true American heroes, true “giants,” upon whom I can depend.
My start as a scientist began with my fascination with biology, and it was then that I began to know the power of mentoring. When I attended Tranquillity Union High School, a teacher piqued my interest in biology by making the course fascinating and by fostering my growing interest in science. After graduation, I went to California State University Fresno where I received a great deal of mentoring from my professors, and I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
After graduation, I was accepted into the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School and then served in the navy as a Destroyer Deck Officer. After active duty service, I decided to return to California State University Fresno State to earn a master’s degree in microbiology. My mentors persuaded me to continue on to a doctoral program and facilitated my acceptance to the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. There I earned a PhD in microbial biochemistry under the mentorship of the chairs of the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology, and supported by a competitive fellowship. Afterward, my predoctoral mentor escorted me on a visit to several universities in La Jolla, where I met several prominent scientists including my future postdoctoral mentor. There I competed and was awarded an NIH two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. At Scripps, my preceptor and mentor taught me by example that science was not only extraordinarily interesting, but it was exciting and fun as well.
My first faculty appointment was to the Department of Microbiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, where the department chairman served as my mentor and was highly instrumental in my receiving tenure and promotion. I conducted research in immunology and virology, and coordinated the medical microbiology course for medical and graduate students.
As one who enjoys new challenges, I left my tenured position and entered a new phase in my career by working in the biotechnology industry—I held positions such as senior scientist and director of Microbiology Product Development. In these biotechnology companies, I directed the development of reagents and diagnostic tests to aid in the diagnosis of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other bacterial and viral diseases. I also served as an adjunct faculty member at the Tufts School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology.
After six years in industry, I again decided that I needed a further challenge. I spoke to a good friend at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—who suggested that I might like to work there. Soon the chief of the Office of Scientific Review offered me a position as a scientific review administrator at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), with the responsibility of administering the review of scientific grant applications. After three years, I moved on to become chief, Office of Scientific Review of the National Institute of Nursing Resarch (NINR) and executive secretary of the National Advisory Council for Nursing Research. In 1996, I became chief of the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Branch at the NIGMS, and in 2001, I was selected to become the associate director for Special Populations, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where I served until my retirement in 2008.
I presently continue as a member of the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, and I teach a course in biotechnology. In all the positions I held at the NIH and at Johns Hopkins, I both received mentoring and was a mentor—not only to my staff, but also to many students and faculty at research institutions throughout the country.
I truly believe that mentoring is crucial to everyone’s success. SACNAS, with its tradition of mentorship, is a unique and wonderful organization. I have been an active supporter of SACNAS for many years, and indeed fortunate to be elected to the SACNAS Board of Directors and later elected to be president of the Board, beginning January 1, 2011.