With undergraduate research already on her resume, USD's first Ocean Leader Scholar is eager to discover what the next four years have in store. Thanks to a strong support system, the first generation college student is approaching her education with determination and maturity. Under the guidance of Professor Drew Talley of the Department of Marine Science and Environmental Studies, freshman Yajaira Nunez spent the summer studying the effects of heat on Baja California's wetlands. Before that, she took part in the Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI) summer research program. She said the experiences motivated her to pursue science as an academic discipline.
"If I would not have taken part in the program in 2009 I would probably be doing something completely different because I wouldn't think science would be an option," Nunez said.
"I love that I can go get help from my professors when I need it and that there are many clubs I can join."
Now she is enjoying the learning community afforded by USD's unusually accessible faculty and many student organizations. Despite prior feelings that a science degree was inaccessible, Nunez is seriously considering a major in marine biology. The abundance of caring individuals on campus has been a great source of confidence.
"I love that I can go get help from my professors when I need it and that there are many clubs I can join," Nunez said.
According to Nunez, USD is not just a place to pursue her passion for scientific inquiry, but a place of community as well. She said she has felt especially welcomed by USD's Student Support Services TRiO group, an on-campus resource for underrepresented students. She calls the group her "little family away from home."
With plenty of people and groups to keep her grounded, Nunez is beginning to set goals for her future. According to the young scholar, one faculty member has gone beyond the role of educator to provide a model for the type of woman Nunez would like to become.
"I think that Dr. Theresa S. Tally has inspired me the most," Nunez said. "Working with her, I saw a passion that I never thought possible. She works on her research, helps ODI, is a part-time professor at USD and a mom. I want to be able to do that someday, have a career that I love and a family I can help support."
"There is not one day that I don't get a text from [my mom] telling me that she believes in me and to work hard."
But like anyone with big dreams, Nunez recognizes the value in setting short-term goals as well. When asked about next semester's courses, she said her plans are nothing fancy.
"I want to take an environmental studies class and get started with the mandatory classes so that I can take my fun classes later," Nunez said.
No doubt those core classes will be approached with curiosity and determination, thanks to the work ethic and support system she has developed. Of course, she will never forget her most important resource-- her family. According to Nunez, her mother was very excited about her decision to attend USD, and continues to send love and inspiration.
"There is not one day that I don't get a text from her telling me that she believes in me and to work hard," Nunez said.
- Anne Malinoski '11