“The Danny Brower Award gives me some financial security, which is especially important right now! There is a lot of uncertainty in the air and this scholarship helps give me a sense of control regarding my well-being” said Daniela Ortiz, ’21, who will graduate with a double major (MCB and Biochemistry, as well as a minor in public health), and the latest winner of the Danny Brower Memorial Scholarship.
This scholarship is awarded each year to an undergraduate student involved in research. The Scholarship was established by the department of Molecular and Cellular Biology to honor the professional accomplishments of Dr. Danny Brower, Professor and scientist for over 25 years at the University of Arizona. In the Fall of 2007, Danny passed away unexpectedly. He was an inspiration to many and scholarship winners, including Ortiz, express gratitude to the donors who set up this scholarship. “I thank the donors” Ortiz told me when we chatted over zoom.
“Doing research has been the best experience! I have built most of my network and friends through working in the lab; I have built relationships with people at all levels from the Department Head to scientists to graduate students. Research opens a lot of doors! Ortiz joined The Schroder Lab in January 2019. “I was pretty lucky – Kara (MCB Senior Academic Advisor Kara Dyson) referred me to Dr. Schroeder because she was looking for an undergraduate to work in her lab.” Ortiz was in the Arizona Science, Engineering and Math Scholars Program (ASEMS) program which requires lab shadowing but she was able to secure a position working on the Schroeder lab in the Spring. “At first I did lab duties. I didn't start actual research until May.”
Like every university student, Ortiz has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the labs closed in March, she went home to Agua Prieta, to spend some time with her family, while attending classes online. “This whole situation disappointed me. I was just starting a new project in the lab that had to stop. I was accepted in to a summer research program at Stanford University. The program gave me the option to cancel my participation this summer, go remote, or defer my participation to summer 2021. I decided to participate in the program next summer after graduation. School took up most of my time in the spring since classes went online. I had to mostly teach myself and it took a lot of time. Before we were able to come back to the lab, I began working on a literature review with a couple of my lab mates. Once approvals were granted and we could come back in the lab June 1st, I came back to the Schroeder Lab and worked on my cloning project that took a pause because of the pandemic. I am able to continue my work in the summer through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program’s funding.”
Ortiz has always been interested in cancer biology. In high school, she did a seven-month internship in radiology at a hospital in Agua Prieta, Mexico, her hometown. “Every time a scan revealed a tumor I was captivated! I was interested in the biology behind those films.”
When it came time to look at colleges, Ortiz chose Pima Community College. “When I graduated from high school, I was accepted to UArizona college of nursing but I was unsure of how to pay for it. I didn't even know where to start!” She decided to attend PCC for her first two years. Ortiz worked as a chemistry lab assistant at PCC and completed her AA in Science. “My mentor at PCC encouraged me to continue my studies and I started looking for majors where I could study the biology of cancer. I knew I wanted to major in science at UArizona because every day is full of discovery. I think my science education will be one of the most important pillars in my professional career. I've heard alumni say the fundamentals they learned during their science undergraduate years have served them well.”
Ortiz transferred to UArizona in the Fall of 2018. “It was very intimidating at first at the university! The class sizes and exam times were most intimidating. What helped is that I had classmates from PCC and we went through it together. Also there is always someone at the university that you can go to for help if you take the initiative. Everyone at the UA wants to see you succeed.” Ortiz also found support in programs the university offers, like the ASEMS and MARC programs. “As a first generation college student, I looked for programs that would guide me to my goals. ASEMS taught us strategies, like taking exams in timely manner and time management to life hacks.” The skill she learned as a student that has helped her the most is adaptability “I've been adapting my whole life. I attended kindergarten and elementary school in Mexico and then transitioned to an American education for middle school and high school.” She told me learning that adaptability skill has helped her now more than ever!
Ortiz will finish her undergraduate studies next year and has plans to go to graduate school, studying cancer biology. She will get her PhD and wants to work in academia, teaching and passing on the knowledge she gained. “I want to keep discovering and run a research lab. Growing up my parents always told me I have to give back – by training and learning I will be able to break through scientific obstacles and translate complex science to different audiences.”
With her passion and commitment, we have no doubts that Daniela Ortiz will make scientific breakthroughs and will have an impact! Congratulations Daniela and we look forward to following your journey!