“I want to serve as a role model. I hope young people think, ‘If she can do it, then so can I.’”
Salome Funes, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, is a first -generation college student who came to the United States from Ecuador in 2016 to matriculate at UMMS in the Translational Science Program. Now, as vice president of the UMMS chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Funes is working to teach other young women about careers in science.
“Pursuing a science career was challenging for me because at first, I did not realize how many research jobs existed,” Funes said. “I might have seen science-related advertisements on TV, but I didn’t know what I needed to do to start a career. I had a lot of help from my mentor, and taught myself along the way.”
Funes graduated from the Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas with a Bachelor of Science in biotechnology. While learning English as a second language, she studied infectious disease as a research assistant in Ecuador.
“Biotechnology was the closest thing I could find in my home country to help me reach my goals,” she said. “In Ecuador, there is limited science exposure and hands-on lab experience. You truly have to be engaged and work hard to make something of yourself.”
She joined the lab of Daryl A. Bosco, PhD, associate professor of neurology, in 2017, where she is studying the role of microglia and the profilin (PFN1) gene in ALS pathogenesis.
As she got to know the campus and student body, Funes joined SACNAS. The group’s mission is to use leadership to create diversity in the community. Members interact with the general public to inspire, educate and mentor others on STEM careers. SACNAS members primarily focus on reaching middle school, high school and college students.
SACNAS held a virtual panel in April with Girls Inc. of Worcester, an organization that helps young women navigate gender and social barriers and equips them to grow into independent adults. The panel hosted students from age 12 to 20.
“It was a very successful panel; we had about 25 people total,” Funes said. “Girls Inc. has a lot of people with different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, so we focused our discussion on how we can help, and guide them to a better understanding of ways to practice science.”
Funes said SACNAS is planning summer programs for student groups like Girls Inc., holding sessions on specific topics like physician careers, robotics, biomedical science and much more.
“Being a Latina woman, I want young people to know how many doors are open for them,” she said. “We can help them feel more prepared going to college, picking classes and thinking like a scientist. There are so many positives for picking STEM careers, and I’ll do what I can to show them how to change their lives.”