Powering Students’ Futures: Meet Alumna Stacy Guzman

As a first-generation student, Stacy Guzman (BS ’18) understands the challenges that undergraduate students face. To show appreciation for her experiences at CSUF, she’s established a scholarship to help biochemistry undergrads make their own mark.

During her time at CSUF, Stacy Guzman (BS ’18) forged a path of success in the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. Majoring in biochemistry, she participated in prestigious programs, conducted groundbreaking research for anti-cancer drugs, and was mentored by Peter de Lijser, then-chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Now, she’s helping chemistry and biochemistry students forge their own paths with a scholarship for upper-level undergraduates.

Finding Cures for Children

Guzman is currently completing her Doctor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics degree at the University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on neurogenetics.

“I’m working in the lab of Ingo Helbig, MD, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia [CHOP],” she says. “My work uses computational methods to better understand rare neurological disorders in children. I’m focused on applying data-driven approaches to understand epilepsy phenotypes. During my time here, I’ve had to learn how to code from scratch.”

Guzman enjoys watching her research come to life when she meets the patients enrolled in their genetic testing program. “This is some of the most meaningful and fulfilling work I’ve been part of,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without the support I had at CSUF.”

A Lasting Community

Guzman’s interest in treating human ailments was part of what attracted her to CSUF and its unique research opportunities. In de Lijser’s lab, she and her mentor worked on the skeleton of an FDA-approved drug, making changes at the molecular level that had varying effects on cancer cell lines.

This research earned Guzman the 2018 Glenn Nagel Undergraduate Research Award from the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology. Her talents also earned her acceptance into several merit-based programs, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Research Scholars program.

“By far, this is the best department I’ve interacted with. Everyone cares about your progress and genuinely wants to see you succeed. I met incredible people there, and I would not be where I am today without the help of the community at CSUF.”

Stacy Guzman (BS ’18)

Guzman also took advantage of departmental opportunities. “In NSM, you have more opportunities to take the lead, and there are greater research opportunities than at larger institutions that prioritize graduate and postdoctoral projects,” Guzman says. “You’re also able to interact and build connections with professors with ease, which is essential.”

Nicholas Salzameda, current chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, agrees. “I encourage students to interact with faculty and get to know them,” he says. “Often, science can be intimidating, and getting to know our faculty helps students see that their professors are just like them. Learning about their professors’ paths and experiences will help inspire students to build their own careers while making valuable connections.”

The community that NSM cultivates has left a lasting impression on Guzman. “By far, this is the best department I’ve interacted with. Everyone cares about your progress and genuinely wants to see you succeed. I met incredible people there, and I would not be where I am today without the help of the community at CSUF.”

Impactful Mentorship

De Lijser was an essential part of that community. His contributions to Guzman’s education include nominating her for a prestigious HHMI research program, which Guzman credits with changing her life.

“He’s a kind, caring, devoted professor, with a wonderful sense of humor,” Guzman says. “In his lab, he allowed me to take a lead, which let me shine. He helped me become a better researcher, and I know that I’ll always have him in my corner. His wisdom and teachings still guide me in my graduate studies.”

Salzameda expresses similar sentiments. “Peter de Lijser was a great leader who really helped the department through some tough times and really focused on the students. He’s someone I look to for support and guidance.”

Guzman notes that she most respected de Lijser’s honesty and commitment to standing up for what he believes in. “In moments when I did not believe in myself, he would remind me why I was pursuing my degree. Because I was a first-generation student, this path was brand-new for me. It takes just one person to believe in you and change your life forever. He was one of those people for me, and I am forever grateful.”

Leaving a Legacy

Guzman’s Advancing in STEM scholarship awards $1,000 to first-generation, junior level or higher chemistry and biochemistry undergraduates who plan on applying to graduate or medical school the semester after the scholarship is awarded. She established the scholarship to show her appreciation for the support she received from the department, especially from de Lijser and the late Maria Linder, who was the director of the HHMI program Guzman participated in and a renowned professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“I wanted to show my appreciation by giving back to students,” Guzman says. “I understand firsthand how difficult it is to balance being a full-time student, working, and commuting. I wanted to help ease the stress and financial strain that’s associated with applying for graduate school.”

“It’s always great when alumni have the time, talent, and means to give back to students,” Salzameda says. “Many of our students have responsibilities outside the classroom, and with additional funds, we can help them focus more on their research and studies. Support like Stacy’s helps us create a stronger learning environment, connect with and support students, provide evolving learning opportunities, and more. Stacy sets a wonderful example of what alumni can do to make a big difference in students’ lives. We couldn’t fully do this without support like hers.”

For students wanting to carve their own path in the sciences, Guzman offers a bit of advice: “Build connections with your professors and peers, and get out of your comfort zone. Stay curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You have a wonderful opportunity to conduct research at CSUF for your degree – absorb as much as you can. You’ll learn skills that are useful in all fields. Research isn’t for everyone and comes with more failures than successes, but that’s what makes it special. When it works, there’s no other feeling quite like it.”

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