Sac State alum launches scholarship to increase diversity in STEM
June 25, 2021
As an undergraduate Biology student at Sacramento State, Christian Torres reveled in the ethnic and cultural diversity he saw on campus. But in graduate school, it was a different story.
No Sac State professors in his program shared his ethnic and cultural background, and he was one of only two students of color.
“It was a little bit dispiriting,” he said. “I wondered, ‘Why aren’t there more people here who look like me?’”
Torres, a first-generation college student who earned his master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2019 and now works as a researcher in the Bay Area, decided to do something about the disparity.
The result is a new, permanently endowed scholarship to help foster diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
The Torres Fund, which has raised more than $10,000, recently awarded its first scholarship to Carla Cruz Medina, a graduate Biology student whose experience at Sac State mirrors that of Torres.
“Her story perfectly aligned with my story and my vision,” Torres said.
Cruz Medina, who studied at UCLA as an undergraduate, is the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Studying Biology, she said, has been alienating at times.
“I’ve never had a person of color be my professor in STEM, which has made it hard for me to imagine a space for myself in this field,” she said. “I’m one of only a few people of color in my classes and that reminds me how uncommon, hard, and long a journey it has been to get to where I am.”
Torres, a Fairfield native, has always been intrigued by biological science, even though “no one in my family is really interested” in the subject, he said.
The field is complex and challenging, and offers “so much potential to affect people’s lives in a positive way,” he said. Torres currently works for a San Francisco company that studies monoclonal antibodies for use in cancer treatment.
For a time, Torres considered medical school. To get a taste of what it might be like to tend to patients, he volunteered at a local hospital and worked as an emergency medical technician while juggling a demanding college curriculum.
He conducted undergraduate research at Sac State and worked as a peer-assisted learning facilitator, helping others navigate difficult STEM courses.
“As a student, Christian was purposeful, passionate about biology, and looking for a way to do more than just learn academic content,” said Biology Professor Jennifer Lundmark, for whom Torres worked in the PAL program. Torres wanted to help others overcome obstacles to success, she said.
In establishing the scholarship, Torres “took it upon himself to do something tangible for others, to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds had financial support to explore STEM research and perhaps make it their career path,” Lundmark said.
“I am so impressed by Christian,” she said.
Lisa Hammersley, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said she is grateful to Torres for sharing his story and striving to make a difference.
“Increasing diversity in STEM is important because it brings additional talent, knowledge, skills, creativity, perspectives, and lived experiences to the scientific disciplines and the problems they are trying to solve,” Hammersley said. “The career path should be available to all, and it’s people like Christian who help make that a reality.”
Cruz Medina will receive a $500 scholarship from the Torres Fund to help her continue her studies and encourage other students of color to pursue STEM careers. The fund will award one scholarship each semester in perpetuity, University officials said.
In establishing the scholarship, Torres “has acknowledged the need that people like us have and the power education has given him,” Cruz Medina said. “He is paying it forward.
“I will be forever grateful, and I hope that one day I can do it for someone else.”
For more information about the Torres Fund, go to: swarmfunding.csus.edu/project/22364
Looking for a Faculty Expert?
Contact PIO Anita Fitzhugh
(916) 278-2806 or (916) 217-8366