For recent graduate Erica Garcia Silva '23, UC Riverside has been a "transformative experience."

Erica Garcia Silva Science Ambassador

Erica Garcia Silva ’23 graduated last June from UC Riverside with a degree in Biology, and plans on taking a gap year before enrolling in medical school…also, ideally, at UC Riverside. 

“I want more clinical experience, so I am volunteering at Glendale Adventist Medical Center as a COPE Health Scholar,” she says. 

Erica is also one of 60 individuals chosen to participate in Yale’s Program to Advance Training in Health & Sciences (PATHS), where she will have the opportunity to participate in workshops, training sessions and mentorship programs facilitated by Yale Medical School faculty and students.

We recently caught up with Erica and learned more about her experience at UC Riverside, how her parents’ love and self-sacrifice inspires her, and why her nickname on campus is “bug lady”:


What attracted you to UC Riverside? 

“I actually transferred to UC Riverside from Glendale Community College. During my time at Glendale, I had kept largely to myself, limiting my presence on campus solely to attending classes. After transferring, one of my goals was to increase my involvement within both UC Riverside and my community, and I found that UC Riverside fostered the right atmosphere for that. UC Riverside cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that encourages every student to discover their place within the Highlander family. It fosters a sense of collaboration and networking among students and promotes growth without pitting us against each other.”


How has UCR positioned you for the future?

“Before coming to UC Riverside, I was an incredibly shy person. I was too afraid of being rejected to put myself out there and didn’t engage with my fellow students or professors. When I arrived at UC Riverside,  I found that the faculty and students would encourage everyone, even the shyest person in the room, to speak their mind. I was around people that sought out my opinions and ideas because they saw value in all perspectives. I truly believe attending UCR was a transformative experience, especially because of the CNAS Science Ambassadors, program which introduced me to brilliant individuals who were dedicated to making a positive impact both on and off campus. I learned that the only way I could participate was to speak up. I didn’t feel as though I was being 'railroaded' while attending UC Riverside. Although I was one of hundreds of biology students, my path could still be unique. I could choose to take Cancer Biology and Comparative Virology whereas someone else might take Entomology and Microbiology courses.”


How did CNAS faculty and students help you get the most out of your UC Riverside experience?

“There are two individuals in particular to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. First and foremost, Connie Nugent, CNAS Dean of Student Affairs, played a pivotal role in my journey. Through working closely with her in the Science Ambassadors program, I gained invaluable tools for success. She listened attentively to my ideas, helped me recognize my true potential, and her high expectations for her Science Ambassadors motivated us to reach for excellence. Secondly, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to a fellow student, Patricia Sanchez, who began her UC Riverside journey right after high school. Patty was my role model during my time at the university. She introduced me to a multitude of opportunities and, more importantly, played a significant role in helping me find my voice.”

What was the biggest challenge you faced at UCR and how did you deal with it?

“My biggest challenge was the transition from community college to UCR. I moved from a semester system to a quarter system and felt that everything was moving way too quickly. It was terrifying to be a new student and have people already telling me everything I had to do for graduation. I remember thinking, ‘How is it possible that I’m being rushed toward graduation already? I just got here.’ While it definitely feels fast at first, once you get used to it, things seem to slow down. I was able to get to that point with the help of my honors counselor, Dennis McIver. He gave me valuable advice about where I could go for help, and had me work with the Health Professions Advising Center (HPAC) to plan my pre-med journey. He also told me where to go for advice about volunteer opportunities, and he helped ease my mind by reminding me that I don’t have to do everything. He encouraged me to participate, but taught me strategies to keep from feeling overwhelmed. By the end of my first quarter, I felt more confident in my ability to manage my time.”


What classes/activities did you like most or find the most rewarding? 

“The UC Riverside class I enjoyed the most was actually the one I was most dreading in the beginning. I wanted to take an Entomology course before graduation because the department is ranked number two in the world. However, I have been terrified of insects my entire life. I went into the class wondering what could have possessed me to register for it, but the enthusiasm of professor, Dr. Chow-Yang Lee was absolutely infectious. I threw myself completely into the material and looked forward to insect hunting expeditions with my classmates. This class deepened my passion for biology because it reminded me that life comes in so many different forms, and that the journey to understanding them is critical for the conservation of biodiversity. Dr. Lee taught us that even the smallest creatures can have an immense impact on the world, a lesson that will stick with me. Moreover, I've earned a unique reputation among my friends as the ‘bug lady,’ a title that comes with the added bonus of receiving insect pictures from them and the chance to identify these intriguing creatures!”


What do you miss most about UCR?

“There was always something going on! If I had free time between classes, there were workshops, concerts, seasonal celebrations, and much more. I was able to engage with my passions while at the same time pursuing my education. I helped coordinate a cancer research symposium with the A Friend in Me organization last summer that was an unforgettable experience, and allowed me to help spread awareness of pediatric cancer. This is why I highly encourage everyone to get involved!”


Tell us a bit about your family. 

"I am the third of five daughters. My parents, Rafael and Angelina Garcia, are immigrants who hail from Michoacán, Mexico. They came to California to build a better life for my family. They were not fortunate enough to get an education, but that has not stopped them. They worked upwards of twelve hours a day to provide for my sisters and me, and eventually they were able to open up a small Mexican bakery. They both still work seven days a week to make sure we have everything we need. They are my biggest inspiration and supporters. Life has not been easy for them, but they keep pushing forward for us.”

What did you like to do when you weren’t cramming for exams?

“I’ve always enjoyed music. I have played the piano and flute since I was around 10 years old. It was actually a bonding experience for my dad and I, as he was my piano teacher. I also love to read. My favorite book of all time would have to be The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. I’ve probably read it over a dozen times! Little EINSTEINs is a project within the Science Ambassadors program whose mission it is to expose elementary school students within the Riverside Unified School District to STEM through lectures and experiments to foster a passion for science and a desire to pursue higher education. It didn't take long for me to recognize my deep passion for STEM education, particularly when it comes to nurturing young minds. STEM education at the elementary level can sometimes lack the spark needed to ignite a student’s interest. Through our efforts, we were able to transform their learning experiences, turning the words in their textbooks into tangible experiments on their desks.”


What happens after the gap year ends?

“I plan to enroll in medical school, hopefully at UC Riverside. I have always felt at home in Riverside, and would love to continue my studies there. I hope to either go into cardiology or become an obstetrician-gynecologist…heart and women’s health are two subjects I am passionate about. Ultimately, I hope to one day volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. I want to help people who do not have access to the same healthcare systems that we are fortunate to have. I want to travel to developing countries and offer my services to underserved populations.”


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