Their community college experiences occurred hundreds of miles apart, but Kim Arellano Carmona and John Wilson each found the support and inspiration that would propel them to Ph.D. candidate studies at UC Merced.
Now they both have a golden opportunity to give back as awardees of a fellowship program that has them shadowing community college mentors and, in the spring semester, teaching classes at Bakersfield College.
Arellano Carmona and Wilson are Faculty Diversification Fellows. The one-year program is for post-baccalaureate STEM students interested in teaching at two-year colleges. Both students, in their research and career aspirations, have a desire to lift up people of underserved and underrepresented communities.
Arellano Carmona, a native of the Los Angeles area, is a doctoral student in public health. Her research interests include how to lower the barriers to health care and information, particularly among Latino populations. She describes herself as a product of California community colleges; she attended three of them in the L.A. area to gather the coursework she wanted while balancing other life obligations.
I really enjoy working with students, helping them learn the material and how to connect it to their lives.
At Los Angeles Valley College, she got a big boost from two biology instructors. Becky Green-Marroquin and Pamela Byrd-Williams encouraged her to do some volunteer work in the department and steered her to a summer research internship. The activities ignited her interest in research.
“They saw something in me,” Arellano Carmona said. “It was thanks to them that I had the courage to pursue doctoral studies. They were very instrumental.”
Arellano Carmona’s doctoral adviser at UC Merced, public health Professor Susana Ramírez, said her student entered the program committed to excelling in research, “but her heart has always been in teaching at a teaching-centered institution. This fellowship is exactly the kind of professional development opportunity she needs to support her development and competitiveness as a college-level instructor.”
Wilson grew up in Rocklin, where he attended Sierra College. There, he was inspired by computer science teacher Barry Brown. “He was working on a lot of little projects with me, like putting Linux on a router. Then I started doing little simulations.”
Simulations are now a crucial part of Wilson’s doctoral research in biophysics at UC Merced. Specifically, he works to understand motor proteins that transport materials inside cells. Transport breakdowns are associated with neurodegenerative issues such as Alzheimer’s disease. Along the way, Wilson enjoys engaging undergraduates, especially first-generation students and those from underrepresented groups, all of whom are learning programming language for the first time.
A student will be trying to work through something and I give them just enough that they can get there on their own. And I see that moment when it clicks.
Wilson works in physics Professor Jing Xu’s lab. Last spring, he helped send instrument kits to students in a remotely taught undergraduate course. The simple but effective instruments were used to develop, conduct and report experiments.
“The best thing about working at UC Merced is the opportunity to spend so much time mentoring undergraduates, such as teaching them about research and guiding them in their careers,” Wilson said.
He and Arellano Carmona are drawn to teaching at the community college level, where students often are working to find their footing in higher education, whether they’re fresh out of high school or middle-aged parents looking to reorient their careers.
“I really enjoy working with students, helping them learn the material and how to connect it to their lives,” Arellano Carmona said. “I would like nothing more than to be a tenure-track faculty member at a community college or Cal State, bringing innovative ways to teach students.”
Wilson also enjoys making those connections.
“A student will be trying to work through something and I give them just enough that they can get there on their own. And I see that moment when it clicks,” he said. “That’s a really rewarding feeling. And I think a community college is a great place to do that.”