TAMIU Student Accepted to Harvard University’s Doctoral Program in Chemical Biology
Erick Vázquez Cano, 21, a senior Chemistry major at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), weighed options carefully between attending a college in México or TAMIU when applying for a university as a high school graduate from Nuevo Laredo, México’s Colegio Royal.
He said he chose TAMIU, partly due to its proximity to his parents’ home in Nuevo Laredo, but also because initially, as he shyly admits, he had planned to take his fundamental classes at the University and transfer to a university outside Laredo.
Now, four years later, Vázquez Cano is graduating from TAMIU with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, and he said he is glad he never transferred to another university. Thanks to his dedication and scientific research at TAMIU, he was one of 20 students nationwide accepted to Harvard University to pursue doctoral studies in Chemical Biology starting this Fall.
“I’m very excited, and of course, very grateful to everyone including TAMIU, my parents, my family and friends, my professors, and to all my teachers since kindergarten,” Vázquez Cano said, “A lot of people play a role in your decisions.”
Soon after enrolling at TAMIU, Vázquez Cano said he realized that TAMIU offered students more opportunities than he had first imagined. At the encouragement of a faculty member, he signed up for a lab during the summer of his freshman year led by Dr. Ruby Ynalvez, associate professor of Biology. He began as her research assistant, studying regional plants and testing them for antibacterial properties.
For the next three years, Vázquez Cano continued under Dr. Ynalvez’s mentorship, researching and working on the characterization of Cia 7 gene, part of the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii algae.
“We don’t know the function of that gene and are doing experiments in an effort to characterize it and determine if the presence of that gene gives the algae an ability to cope with heavy metal toxicity,” he said, referring to the Cia 7 gene.
While at TAMIU, Vázquez Cano also presented at various national science conferences and even traveled to India through the University’s Reading the Globe Program.
He credits Dr. Ynalvez and Dr. Alfred Addo-Mensah, associate professor of Chemistry, for helping him narrow his research focus, while also encouraging him to present at conferences and to apply to Harvard.
“Last August, Dr. Addo-Mensah, three other students and I went to Boston to present a research poster at the American Chemical Society Conference,” Vázquez Cano said, “That’s when he asked me, ‘Where do you want to go to grad school?’ I answered that I wanted to go to The University of Texas at Austin. He then asked me, ‘Where do you really want to go?’ So, I said if I possibly could go to Harvard, that would be nice. He told me to then apply, because I had nothing to lose.”
Vázquez Cano applied, was invited to interview at Harvard and accepted to their doctoral program.
Erick Vázquez Cano, center, is pictured with his TAMIU mentors. To his left is Dr. Ruby Ynalvez, associate professor of Biology and to his right, Dr. Alfred Addo-Mensah, associate professor of Chemistry.
He said he is grateful to both Drs. Ynalvez and Addo-Mensah for encouraging his development as a future scholar.
“If I’m going to grad school in the first place, it’s because of Dr. Ynalvez,” he said, “She was the one who helped me consolidate my passion by helping me attend national conferences since my second year in college,” Vázquez Cano said.
He continued, “I know that if there’s one thing I’d like to contribute is to motivate students to always pursue and aim for the best. That’s what I got from Dr. Addo-Mensah. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have sent my application to Harvard.”
Vázquez Cano said that TAMIU’s campus size, resources and opportunities helped ensure his academic success.
“I think TAMIU is a very nice place to conduct research since not many of us join a lab,” he said, “We have many instruments and machines, and compared to other universities, you don’t have to wait in line to use them in the lab.”
He encouraged other students to learn more about TAMIU’s resources.
“TAMIU is a great university,” he said “The resources and opportunities are there. The ACT on Ideas Department, the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), all of them are there to help students,” he said, “There are many positions and undergraduate assistantships, scholarships. As an international student, I’m not eligible for many of them but those students who are eligible, they should go for them. If you are passionate enough, if you are driven, then TAMIU is going to make it possible for you.”
Vázquez Cano said that he has not yet decided about his future career path.
“Once I complete my doctoral studies, I’m open to everything,” he said, “With a Ph.D., you can become a professor, do industrial research or become a consultant to a lawmaker. You get to dream whatever you want to do. Before, I couldn’t dream of working for the World Health Organization, but after Harvard, I’m sure the doors will be open for anything.”
Finally, Vázquez Cano said he is proud to represent TAMIU at Harvard.
“Just the fact that I have a diploma from TAMIU, for Harvard to know that they have good people coming out of this University, might change the way they look at us or the way they perceive regional universities,” he said, “At the end, it doesn’t matter where you are from. Your school is just a place for you to do the most of what you can.”
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