The scientist learning more than she ever imagined

It’s understandable that Lidia Lopez-Vazquez was nervous when she came to K-State. She was taking a big step — from community college to a big-time research university.

“I think applying to come here was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” she said.

When Lidia graduated a semester early from high school in Dodge City, Kansas, she wasn’t sure about her next steps. But instead of taking a break to figure it out, she decided to earn some college credit at Dodge City Community College. She met a biology teacher who became her research mentor.

“He said I should consider staying another year,” she said. “And then join K-State’s Bridges to the Future program.”

Bridges to the Future encourages underrepresented students to pursue careers in biomedical or behavioral sciences. Funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, students participate in research projects even before transferring to K-State.

Opportunities at K-State evolved her research experience from testing household cleaners on bacteria to studying how environmental stress can cause the development of a second cell type in multicellular algae and examining the changes in cellular differentiation.

“We’re trying to get the basis of cellular differentiation,” she said. “If we can understand it in this simple model system, we can apply what we’ve learned to other systems, such as cancer development.”

K-State also opened the world to Lopez-Vazquez. On a trip to Italy as part of the First-Generation Experience, she met new people, marveled at the Colosseum and soaked up some viniculture science — aka winemaking.

“We went on a wine tour and saw the stages of making wine,” she said. “Fermentation, aging, storing — from the classroom to real life!”

Lopez-Vazquez’s high-impact opportunities have been transformative.

“My education at K-State would not have been the same if I had only gone to classes,” she said. “Building a community and having these experiences has shown me that I can do so much more than I can imagine.”

What I’ve learned

K-State expectations – It feels smaller than expected. “I see familiar faces when I’m walking around campus. I imagined a big university to be a place where you can’t connect, but there are so many people willing to help you.”

Advice to students – Get outside of the classroom. “You’ll get so many rewarding experiences, but you have to apply. That’s where it starts.”

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