Name: Samantha Morales-Torres
Major: 3rd Year Neuroscience Major
Hometown: Riverside, CA
Take us through your decision to attend UCR. As a first generation college student, what did attending a university mean to you and your family?
After spending my freshman year at UCSD, I realized that I needed to make a change after my grades started dropping. Therefore, I transferred to UCR to return home while promising myself that I would bring my grades up and serve my community. I am not ashamed to admit that my grades were low when I transferred into UCR because my grades do not define me and I am able to learn from that experience. Thankfully, I have my family and friends that helped me bring myself back up so I started doing better academically and mentally. I cannot emphasize enough just how much I have been able to grow as a person and student at UCR. Not only have I started taking my Neuroscience upper division classes, which I am obsessed with, but I have also been able to keep my word on serving my community. I pay it forward by being a resource for younger students and serving as a role model of perseverance. I can confidently say that I have developed the skills I need to face challenges and overcome them in order to excel academically while always pursuing new opportunities and helping my community.
As the oldest in my family, being a first-generation college student has been a learning yet fulfilling experience. Although the imposter syndrome may creep in sometimes, I do my best to push those negative thoughts away when I remind myself of the work I am doing for me and my family. My mom is able to see how her sacrifices and hard work are paying off as she sees me excelling in my courses. I also serve as a role model for my younger sister, who is now a senior in high school. I see myself in her in so many ways, especially now that I see her applying to colleges. I aim to empower and encourage her to pursue her dreams in higher education and remind her that I will always be here to support her through the way, just like my mom does for both of us. Education means everything to my family, which is why I value learning everyday, especially at a university.
Having lived in Riverside your entire life, you are able to commute to UCR. How has your experience been as a commuter?
When I transferred to UCR, I was worried that my social life would be nonexistent as a commuter student, which is a common misconception. However, after attending orientation and transfer events, as well as getting involved on campus, I made so many close friends that I now consider to be my best friends. As a local commuter, I can recommend places that I frequent to my friends, which was certainly the case when we were deciding where to eat or hang out (pre-COVID). Even though I have lived in Riverside my entire life, I have discovered so many restaurants and attractions that I never knew about so I feel like I am learning more about Riverside alongside my friends. I have a newly found appreciation for my home and community, even with things that I am used to seeing for years now, like Mt. Rubidoux or the Festival of Lights. Driving to and from school was one of my favorite times of the day as a commuter because it was my break time to either blast my music or simply reflect on my day.
Please describe the activities and clubs you are involved in, the organizations you volunteer for, and any jobs you have.
I currently work at my previous (and predominantly Latinx) middle and high schools as a tutor for two college-preparatory programs, AVID and Upward Bound, respectively. I enjoy motivating the younger generations of students to become better students and achieve their goals, no matter how big or small they may be, in order to inspire them to pursue higher education. This is my way of paying it forward as a college student because this is the only way that I can, for now.
I volunteer through the COPE Health Scholars program at Riverside Community Hospital, where I rotate on different floors of the hospital to gain clinical experience. Through COPE, I have had the fortune to meet and interact with patients more, which humbles and further encourages me to pursue my medical aspirations. I am given the opportunity to bathe, feed, and transport patients, as well as observe surgeries and child-birth deliveries. In addition, I volunteer with the Riverside Free Clinic, which is a non-profit organization in Downtown Riverside that provides free or reduced cost services to the underserved and uninsured community of the Inland Empire. Some of these services include, but are not limited to: medical, dental, counseling, laboratory work, and pharmaceutical. I am involved in the Medical Spanish committee so I am able to translate in English and Spanish for the doctors and their patients.
I am the Mentorship Chair for the Latino Medical Student Association Plus (LMSA+). This year, we created two brand new mentorship programs called the Undergraduate Mentorship Program (UMP) and the Medical School Mentorship Program (MSMP). We recently hosted the Reveal Party socials for both programs in which mentors and mentees were able to virtually meet their match for the first time! I hope to see these programs flourish and become permanent mentorship programs within LMSA+ at UCR. I am proud to be a current LMSA+ board member because through my work, I take part in empowering our UCR pre-med community and influencing the future of LMSA+ at UCR.
If a student is interested in joining LMSA+, how can they become a member?
I highly encourage all pre-medical and pre-health students to join LMSA+ to be a part of a learning and supportive community on campus. You will find yourself surrounded with others that have the same passion and strive for learning as you do. LMSA+ provides a safe space for students of color who need extra support or resources to reach their medical aspirations, which was exactly what I needed once I transferred to UCR. LMSA+ prides itself in its diversity, which is what the Plus (+) stands for. Therefore, it is important to note that you do not have to identify as Latinx to join LMSA+!
We are using our platform to inform and discuss various topics, from social justice to climate change, on social media and during our events. As emerging health care professionals, it is our responsibility to bring awareness to these issues and make a change in our communities through our work. This year, we started a partnership with the UCR organization, African Americans United in Science (AAUS). Our mentorship programs are exclusively open to LMSA+ active members but through our partnership, AAUS members were invited to apply and waive our requirement.
To become an active LMSA+ member, you must apply through the General Member Application that opens at the start of every quarter. It is currently closed for Fall Quarter but will open again at the start of Winter Quarter. You can find this application on our website: www.lmsaucr.com. This application allows us to properly welcome you to our organization and gives us feedback about how to better support our members. There are never any membership or application fees. You do not necessarily have to be an active member to attend our meetings and events as we understand that some people may miss our General Member Application deadlines. However, when you become an active member, you are able to apply to the mentorship programs, gain access to additional resources, and receive priority registration for limited-space workshops. Being an active LMSA+ member is an ongoing process because you must attend two general meetings and one social event per quarter.
As a third year neuroscience major, where do you see yourself after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to take a gap year to study for the MCAT and prepare to apply for medical school. I would also like to use this time to become a certified medical interpreter for Spanish and learn American Sign Language.
My greatest aspiration is to become a neurosurgeon and stay in the Inland Empire throughout my career. As a neurosurgeon, my goal is to continue to pay it forward by staying to see and help my community and younger generations in the I.E. grow to become healthy and strong individuals. I want to give back to my community--which raised me through educational experiences and scholarships-- the way it did for me. I hope that the younger Latinx generations growing up in the I.E. get to see me or another Latinx doctor that looks just like them so that they, too, feel inspired to pursue their dreams. Everyday, I motivate myself to work hard because I am determined to pursue my dreams.
How are CNAS and your work with LMSA+ helping you to achieve your goal of going to medical school?
Since attending the CNAS Transfer Orientation, CNAS has provided me with many learning opportunities and resources to grow as a student. I am proud to be a part of a learning community that is driven towards scientific innovation and research. I appreciate how diverse the CNAS faculty and staff are because I am able to see someone who looks like me, achieving their goals and working in higher education to teach the next generation of scientists. I admire my female professors because it is so inspiring for me to see more women in STEM. In addition, I cannot thank my academic advisor enough for her guidance and support in adjusting to UCR and providing me with the resources I need to excel as a Neuroscience student. Through the CNAS STEM Pathway Program, I have also received guidance and found other transfer and commuter students like me. Last February, I attended a field trip with their STEM Connections Program to iFly in Ontario Mills. We learned and applied math and physics concepts and got to fly in a wind tunnel! I appreciate how CNAS offers affordable, learning opportunities like these to their students because it is so wonderful to see how CNAS encourages their students to learn through hands-on experiences and help each other out along the way. This is very important to me because as an aspiring medical student, I am given the opportunity to expand my knowledge and apply what I am taught in my classes to the real world.
Through LMSA+, I have not only found a new learning community for pre-medical students like myself, but my fellow board members are like my family now because they are always so supportive in my work for LMSA+ while ensuring I am doing well in all my classes. I am reminded that there is no such thing as a dumb question, which is always a relief to hear, especially because I am still learning how to apply to medical school, like many other students in our organization. When making the mentorship programs, I wanted to add in my own philosophy to encourage students to pay it forward, as I hope that our mentees someday become mentors. Through my leadership position specifically, I have learned more about time management and improved my public speaking skills. As a person who loves to learn and acknowledges the fact that the medical field is always growing, I know I hit the jackpot when I joined this organization because I am always learning something new, whether it be about myself or the medical field.
Given your work in the Riverside community as a tutor with AVID and Upward Bound, what advice would you give to middle school and high school students that are thinking about going to college?
The biggest piece of advice I can give to middle school and high school students that are thinking about going to college is to never believe and/or let someone tell you that you cannot do something. Do what makes you happy because you are capable of doing whatever you set your mind to. You can go to college and you will graduate someday. Also, do not feel ashamed of how long it may take you to do so, as we are all in our own lane so there is no competition.
In high school, you may hear people talk bad about staying home and attending a local community college or university, but do not let the opinions of others cloud your judgement or make you feel bad for your decisions because only you know what is best for you. I can assure you that it does not matter which college you attend. It is ultimately up to you to make your own college experience, which is unique to everyone. Find the little things in your everyday life that make you happy and be sure to enjoy your time in the present because time flies by. I know some difficult days may come up, especially because the imposter syndrome may try to creep in sometimes, but find your support group--whether it be family, friends, or an organization-- and stick to them. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not feel embarrassed or afraid of failing because as a person who has experienced it, I see it as it was: a learning opportunity.
I also want to add that even if you are not sure what you want to study or do yet, you have time to explore your options in college. Even if you do know, I encourage you to continue to explore other fields because you may find a subject that you enjoy and want to double major or minor in. If you realize that college is not for you, that is totally okay and I will support you in all of your endeavors.
The last thing that I want to say to all middle and high school students is a phrase that I have heard throughout my life: Si Se Puede!