Jonathan Green recalls a memorable day in high school in Santa Monica when he got to tour a biotech lab.
He loved seeing the microscopes, the high-tech science equipment, and the scientists at work. He knew this would be a field he would enjoy.
Now a senior at UC Santa Cruz, Green (Rachel Carson ’22) is enjoying studying molecular, cell and developmental biology.
Green first got interested in science as a child reading about anatomy. He was also inspired by his older sister, who always got good grades and attended community college.
His focus on science has a personal component because his aunt has Huntington’s disease, a genetic condition that causes nerve cells in the brain to break down over time.
“I’ve seen her decay and I wanted to learn about biology,” Green said.
Green is the first person in his family to attend a four-year university and credits the SEMILLA Scholars Peer Mentorship Program with giving him tremendous support his first year.
“I would have faced a lot more challenges” without the program, Green said. “I wouldn’t know the people I know now and I probably would have done academically worse to a degree.”
SEMILLA supports underrepresented students, including Hispanics like Green, in their goals to earn a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Green was in the program’s first cohort and was assigned a peer mentor who helped him navigate the unfamiliar university system.
“That really helped me,” Green said. “It let me feel connected.”
He was also required to attend regular meetings with counselors and enroll in supplemental Academic Excellence (ACE) classes that assisted him in studying for his STEM classes. A typical ACE class might be a 30-person session that breaks down a 200-person lecture class, which could be overwhelming to the new student.
“ACE is a blessing,” Green said. “Everyone should do it.”
Green appreciated his experience with SEMILLA so much that he became a mentor the following year and each subsequent year. He said the support offered by the program is crucial to incoming freshmen.
“People get overwhelmed, especially in STEM because it is very demanding,” he said.
SEMILLA also gave him the skills to navigate the undergraduate research world, where he applied and was accepted into the Center to Advance Mentored Inquiry-Based Opportunities (CAMINO), a program that aims to support undergraduates in ecology and conservation. Placed in Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Erika Zavaleta’s lab, he briefly conducted research in the alpine environment along the Sierra Nevada range, studying how climate change affects species that live in the alpine environment.
In his third year, Green also received support from UC Santa Cruz’s STEM Diversity programs as a Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) fellow, which supports underrepresented students in science studies with the goal of applying to graduate school. Since fall 2020, he has worked in MCD Biology Associate Professor Zhu Wang’s lab handling mice and researching the AR and Wnt signaling pathways in the prostate gland.
Also, he has received valuable guidance in how to interact in the science world—from the language to use, to the way to build a résumé, to the steps to pursue graduate studies and beyond.
He is happy SEMILLA reached out to him and invited him to apply for the program before he started attending classes at UC Santa Cruz. He has seen over his college career how many people who start out with STEM majors eventually drop out and switch to something else.
“It’s so easy to get lost,” he said.