UA student first Hispanic woman to be accepted to prestigious doctoral program

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 10:49 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A senior at the University of Arizona just found out she will make history as the first Hispanic woman to be accepted to a prestigious doctoral program overseas.

Jocelyne Rivera hopes her story will inspire other women and people of color to pursue their passion in STEM.

Rivera is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arizona.

“I encountered amazing people, amazing mentors. People motivated me to push beyond my limits and to further my career,” Rivera said.

Rivera applied to the National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

It is an accelerated doctoral program for students committed to biomedical research careers. The acceptance rate for the program is just 10%.

“I was very nervous,” said Jocelyne Rivera.

Rivera made the cut and will make history as the first Hispanic woman to be accepted to the program.

Rivera is used to charting her own path.

She is a first-generation college student who was often the only woman in her classes, but those challenges just inspired her to work harder.

“That motivated me to do something more,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she never lost sight of why she chose this path.

“My younger cousin was diagnosed with a very genetic rare bone disease,” Rivera said.

Rivera said biomedical engineers created a prosthetic leg for her cousin, which not only left an incredible impact on his life, but on what Rivera wanted to do with her.

“I am here trying to improve other people’s life quality and improve human health worldwide,” Rivera said.

Her passion for healthcare led her to Assistant Professor of Minkyu Kim’s lab.

Dr. Kim leads research in biomaterials in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona.

“She was very active to learn especially during the pandemic, most people did not want to do anymore, but Jocelyne was the one who kept pushing further,” said Dr. Kim.

During her junior year, Rivera was accepted to a program at John Hopkins University.

“It was my first choice,” Rivera said.

The Nanotechnology for Biology and Bioengineering Research Experience for Undergraduates only selects a handful of students, and Rivera made the cut.

Then the pandemic hit, and before Rivera had a chance to move to Maryland, they canceled the program.

“Although it was devastating, the pandemic really encouraged me to focus on things that would greatly impact human health,” Rivera said.

Rivera then applied to a virtual summer research position through the University of Virginia where she focused on computational modeling.

She continued her work in Dr. Kim’s lab where she worked with her mentor, graduate student David Knoff to create microscopic gels to create cardiovascular disease.

This work likely helped her stand out amongst the hundreds of applicants for the PhD program.

“It is just incredible. It is beyond anything we could have imagined,” said Knoff. “It’s something to be very proud of.”

While Rivera wants to see more diversity in this field, she hopes her story will inspire others to pursue their passion no matter the makeup of the field.

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