Scholarship Winner Hopes to Inspire Young Women with a Career in Science
Toaseña Arasely Rodriguez is a soft-spoken, observant young woman. Her intensity of focus has been one of her greatest assets in defining her self-driven learning style that sets her apart from many of her peers.
Growing up speaking mostly Spanish at home with her family, Arasely was placed in the English as a Second Language class with other elementary school bi-lingual learners. Teachers recognized early on that her education was being limited, so she was removed from the ESL class and began to shine. She was especially intrigued by science.
Beginning in elementary school Arasely participated in science fairs, enjoying the challenge of exploration and problem solving. She recalls her interest turning into more of a passion in fourth grade while learning about photosynthesis and in fifth grade listening to a visiting scientist speak about soil and water conservation.
“Science draws me in because it allows me to ask questions and find the answers,” said the young scientist. “I like figuring out what the world is made up of.”
By sixth grade, Arasely expressed such interest and advanced understanding of science and technical concepts that her teacher “didn’t know what to do with her” and sent her to the Middle School Science Lab to conduct individual explorations. Under the guidance of Science Fair and STEM Instructor Laura Tenorio, Arasely would explore along her own scientific path.
The science lab became Arasely’s home away from home while attending Taos High School. She served as a lab assistant in charge of inventory, setting up equipment, and even closing down the room at night. She tutored middle students in math and science and assisted teams with developing solutions for science fair projects, spending three or more hours in the lab each day.
Although Arasely says her family thinks she’s “weird” for her dedication, her parents encouraged their daughter and stressed the importance of education. She remembers the proud moment when the whole family drove to Albuquerque to support and celebrate the moment her father earned his plumbing license in order to further his business opportunities.
I will make an impact in biomedical engineering and develop diagnostic and therapeutic devices or explore tissue engineering. My goal is also to become a role model for girls in my community. I want them to understand that background and gender should not limit one’s capabilities.
During senior year, her science fair team synthesized a biopolymer from crab shells to filter out common pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, ibuprofen, and estrogen from drinking water. It was Arasely who devised the method of using bacteria to test for the presence of antibiotics in the water, with a 99.7% overall removal rate for the system. From the successful research, the students plan to submit a patent and develop a product for public use.
After winning Grand Best of Show at the regional competition, the team went on to compete in Phoenix at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science competition. Approximately 1,700 ninth through twelfth grade students from 75 countries, regions, and territories showcased their independent research and competed for prizes. Arasely’s team won fourth place and $500 for their entry in the Environmental Engineering category.
In the fall of 2016, Arasely went to attend Regis University on Colorado with the help of a $20,000 Gold award from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund. Her goal is to help others by developing diagnostic or therapeutic medical devices or exploring tissue engineering to improve biological function.
Born with a heart defect that required an operation at two weeks old, Arasely had yearly visits with cardiologists. “I looked forward to the check ups and the echocardiogram. It was fun hearing my heartbeat. Those experiences and my interest in biology and chemistry sparked my interest in biomedical engineering.”
Scholarship winner Arasely Rodriguez is shown in the Taos schools science lab plating E. coli bacteria on a petri dish to incubate and then count the colonies that grow in order to better understand the bacteria’s morphological behavior.
In addition to helping others through a career in science, Arasely also wants to inspire young women in her community. Her family and Mexican-American heritage are very important to her, and it is a huge milestone that Arasely will be the first in her family to go to college.
“Some girls are geared toward more traditional roles,” she said. “I often see younger students who don’t believe in themselves or think they can’t do better in school. I want to be an example that with hard work and the right learning environment and circumstances, you can thrive.”
Navigating the path to college was a challenge. The Federal student aid application, college applications, scholarship research, and even knowing how to select a college were foreign to Arasely and her family. They weren’t sure how they would pay for her education, so winning the scholarship helped to relieve some of the pressure.
“The burden of debt you could acquire is a big anchor. With the scholarship, I can fully immerse myself in academic life, not adding to the burden on myself and my family.”
Arasely will face challenges other students have encountered while pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. As her teach and mentor Ms. Tenorio learned from experience, “STEM fields are expensive areas of study, and many students have to take on a job to help pay for college. It’s hard to balance taking complex classes and working. Some can’t handle it and end up downgrading their education.”
Arasely is grateful to all those who have helped her strive forward. “I know that I have the support and encouragement to succeed. Scholarships give students a means to go to college, to further knowledge and turn their passion into careers. Thank you.