Angeles Mission College
Bocanegra will probe
During a recent visit to the Mission College campus, she discussed her decision with her former biology instructor, Mike Reynolds. He applauds the choice, although perhaps with some bias as a Stanford graduate himself. Bocanegra describes Reynolds as one of the inspirational people in her life."
Mikes a great mentor," she said. "He has a passion for educating people and helping them. Its because of him that Ive done so many of the things that I have done."
It was Reynolds emphasis on "real lab" research that led her to apply to become one of the first two interns in a Mission College program with CTL Laboratories, a cancer research firm in Chatsworth, and to take part in the oncology internship at Harvard.
The choice to research cancer was personal, she said.
"A lot of my family has been riddled by cancer so, naturally, thats the field that interested me at first," she explained.
She soon learned that the study of cancer is a vast area, but one that accordingly offers many avenues of research. As a few examples, she said she can choose to study the different forms of cancer; the effects of different cancers on different parts of the body; diseases that cause cancer; treatments that counteract cancer; the genetics of cancer.
"Its mind-boggling to consider the amount of research that still needs to be done," she said. "As a scientist, I might be able to figure out at least one piece of the puzzle. Even if its a small piece, it will help because were going to need all of the answers to conquer this disease."
When she completes the Stanford doctorate program about five years from now she hopes to become a university professor, where she can continue conducting research while training the next generation of researchers.
Bocanegra also hopes to play a role some day in reforming the way science is taught in the public schools. She recalled how she was first led to science in 7th grade by an no-nonsense teacher who made her students tackle genetics, forensics, and the effects of the hydrogen bomb on the Nagasaki survivors. But then, as a teachers aide in a Sylmar elementary school several years later, Bocanegra witnessed how science was taught to fifth graders.
"Their science projects were volcanoes and common topics," she said. "They didnt give students enough credit for being able to learn. We should be teaching the scientific method and deductive reasoning to fifth graders."
Bocanegra believes that many teachers themselves are intimidated by science and they unintentionally project this discomfort to young students. Instead of learning to love science, children come to fear it, she said.
"Theres a message conveyed that science is too hard to understand," she said. "It shouldnt be that way. If you love something, its not difficult its fascinating and interesting to you."
Its not hard to imagine that, soon, Bocanegra will herself become mentor to many a student.