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The Aztec Experience

The Aztec Experience

Sara Torres:
Leaving a MARC

San Diego State University may be a top-ranked small research university, but don’t let the title fool you. There’s nothing “small” about the research being conducted on campus throughout the year.

In fact, SDSU researchers were awarded nearly $108 million in grants and contracts last academic year alone. For the past 25 years, a slice of that pie has come from a National Institutes of Health grant dedicated to supporting an undergraduate program at SDSU called Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC.

MARC provides hands-on research experience and mentorship to low-income, underrepresented student populations, helping them carve paths to meaningful careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Moments of Discovery

Sara Torres, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, was one of eight students who participated in last summer’s Pre-MARC program, which prepares students to work in a lab setting while giving them insight into research careers and preparing them for the competitive MARC application process.

photo: Sara Torres in the chemistry lab

“It’s challenging, that’s what I like about research,” said Torres, who has been fascinated with exploration and discovery since childhood. “It’s something new every day; you’re always going to be faced with a new problem to solve.

“Not every four-year university provides undergraduates the opportunity to do research. When you do have that opportunity, it definitely opens your mind to new things, and you see things differently. The people you meet along the way, and their perspective on life, it’s very interesting. When you’re in the same environment, and you feel the same as the person next to you, it’s just so much more motivating. You want to do your best — not only for yourself but for others, too.”

Paul Paolini, professor emeritus in the biology department, runs the Rees-Stealy Research Foundation Laboratory where Pre-MARC and MARC students engage in original research focused on cardiac muscle cell dynamics.

“Working in a laboratory, involved in discovery, that’s the exciting part,” Paolini said. “If you can figure out some aspect of a project that hasn’t been known beforehand — especially if you get that published — that gives you a sense of achievement, a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to characterize. It’s a matter of discovery and self-realization as students finally get this sense that they can do something that’s original and a contribution, and it makes a difference.”

Did you know...


During the 2012-2013 academic year, more than 1,800 Aztecs expanded their horizons and explored the world while studying abroad.



Within the last 10 years, 74 SDSU students have been asked to teach and conduct research abroad as part of the prestigious Fulbright Program.



Currently more than 2,800 Aztecs have gained internships through SDSU, boosting their career network and job prospects post-graduation.



SDSU students studied abroad in 67 countries during the 2013-14 academic year, immersing themselves in different cultures and learning new languages.