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STEM Alumni


Edna Llanes (Biologist)

  • Calexico High School 

    Calexico High School 

    My name is Edna Noelia Llanes. I was born in Mexicali, Mexico, and brought to the United States at the early age of 7 months old. As a senior in high school, I was enrolled in a program called IVROP (Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program) Nursing. I received my CNA license after I graduated from high school, but I decided that nursing was not something I would pursue. After high school, I enrolled at my local community college and majored in life sciences. I transferred to UCSD and graduated with a B.S in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. I started working as a technical operator at Grifols and have gradually moved my way up to a product support scientist where I ensure that our products produce results for pathogens such as HIV- 1, HCV, Dengue, and others. 

    A piece of advice that I would like to share with you is that there are many organizations on campus that will help you if you need to talk about college life or if you need help with tutoring. Take advantage of these; you are paying for them.

Karina Ornelas (Zoologist)

  • Montgomery High School

    Montgomery High School

    My name is Karina Ornelas. I was born in Chula Vista, but until I was 13 years old, I lived in Tijuana, Mexico. When I came to the US, I did not know any English. It was hard to learn a new language and try to adapt to a new school. I graduated with Honors from Montgomery High School in 2013. I currently work for the San Diego Audubon Society as a planting coordinator at Otay Valley Regional Park which is very close to Montgomery High School. I restore habitats, plant native plants, and collect data about the plants and birds that live in the area. A piece of advice that I would like to share is that you should try to not be shy because that will sometimes close many opportunities. Trust yourself and if you really want to follow your dream just follow it, and don’t let anyone tell you that you cant. Just follow the journey.

Yvonne Roca (Medical Student)

  • Lincoln High School

    Lincoln High School

    Yvonne Roca is a rising second-year medical school student in the UCLA Medical Education-Leadership and Advocacy Program. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 2016 with a B.S in Human Biology and took 3 gap years before going to medical school. She was born in Long Beach, CA, and raised in Tijuana, B.C. She graduated from Lincoln High School and attended San Diego City College before transferring to UCSD. As a medical student, Yvonne is the co-coordinator for the First Gen @ DGSOM group and the Surgery Interest Group. Yvonne is passionate about mentoring students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and she aspires to address inequalities faced by underserved communities.

Susie Gomez (Computer Science)

  • Bonita Vista High School

    Bonita Vista High School

    am Susie Gomez, I was born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, B.C. for most of my childhood. I attended Bonita Vista Middle and High School and went on to study Computer Science at San Diego State University. After two years, I ended up transferring to the University of Colorado Boulder. 

    As a computer science student, I took programming classes. I enjoyed it so much I started exploring majors in technology. While in college, I got to work on fun creative projects and travel to Bolivia and Japan with internships and school clubs. About 3 years ago, I moved out to San Francisco to work as a software engineer in a design systems team. I also volunteer with nonprofits, one of them being Technolochicas, which help promote technology education in Latin communities. 

Tiffany Wuence (Mechanical Engineer)

  • Imperial Valley High School

    Imperial Valley High School

    My name is Tiffany Wuence. I was born and raised in the Imperial Valley in Southern California. I was raised by a single mother of 4, which shaped my outlook on my life significantly. In high school, I participated in various extracurricular activities such as Cheerleading, Associate Student Body, California Scholarship Federation and many more. I participated in the Imperial Valley Regional Occupation Program where I became a certified Pharmacy Technician my junior year. My senior year of high school I decided to move to San Diego and attend San Diego State University and major in Mechanical engineering and emphasize in Bioengineering with the intention of one day working in the pharmaceutical or bio-technology industry. I currently work at Ajinomoto Bio Pharma Services as a Facilities Engineer. A piece of advice I would offer is that networking is everything. Many times it’s about who you know and how well you can connect with others. Always remember to be kind because people will never forget how you made them feel!

Carlos Avila (Civil and Environmental Engineer)

  • Montgomery High School

    Montgomery High School

    I am a home-grown Border child, a transfronterizo who was born in San Diego but was formed with one foot on each side of the linea, the US-Mexico Border. Lacking any type of academic or professional role models and mentors, I became more inquisitive by the time I entered high school, with a strong desire to break the norm, and began to step outside of my comfort zones.

    Ultimately, a ninth-grade drafting class became the defining experience in my pursuit of a college education and a major in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Arriving in the friendly, sun-kissed town of San Luis Obispo with a population of 40,000 from the San Ysidro Border was certainly a culture shock. I took as much advantage as possible from the professional mentorship that the Minority Engineering Program and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers offered and attended a few conferences and workshops. This network of students and professionals kept me focused and striving for more, part of the reason why I enjoy giving back to the professional-student STEM partnerships here in San Diego.I graduated from San Luis Obispo as a Civil Engineer and I currently work for Rick Engineering Co.

Almaz Ali (Mathematician)

  • Patrick Henry High School

    Patrick Henry High School

    I was really focused on academics and getting into college because I knew that would open up a plethora of opportunities not only for me but for my family as well. My mom made all the sacrifices she could to ensure I had an education but coming from a low-income first-generation background I found myself navigating unchartered territories. So, like my mom, I learned to advocate for myself which was crucial to my success. When I went to high school 10+ years ago we had none of the language or frameworks to discuss systemic racism, so I felt like I often just put my head down and went to work despite seeing the inequity around me.


    I worked my entire time during college both on and off-campus, so transitioning to college was nice in that I had more flexibility over my schedule, but it also meant increased responsibilities and tasks because I had to pay for school-related expenses, and I was really afraid of debt. Being a commuter student can make it hard to meet other students but participating in a pre-MBA program for first-gen students a month before my first quarter helped me meet future classmates, and I met my best friend in the program. You can do well in academics, but at the end of the day when you graduate that needs to translate into a career or continued education. I wish I had more support from the school and mentors on navigating the career front. Now I know so much, and I just wish I knew what I know now while I was in school. 

Jose O. Maximo (Neuroscientist)

  • Southwest High School

    Southwest High School

    My name is Jose “Omar” Maximo and I was born in Los Angeles, CA., but raised in Mexico for the most part of my childhood and adolescence. After moving to San Diego from Tijuana, I attended Southwest High School for my senior year. I began my college education at San Diego City College and after taking an Intro to Physiological Psychology class, I fell in love with research and the brain. Then, I transferred to San Diego State University, where I started working in a research laboratory thanks to the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program. My mind was set on obtaining a Ph.D. and becoming a scientist. After a rigorous application process, I was accepted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and five years later, I graduated and obtained my doctorate in Developmental Psychology. Currently, I am a research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at UAB where I use magnetic resonance imaging techniques to study the brain in people with schizophrenia. Besides research, I have other interests such as teaching and mentoring students from underrepresented groups to succeed in science.

    My message to any student is to surround yourself with people with similar dreams and goals to yours - you do not want to navigate this world all by yourself. Never leave a room with a question and always be assertive!

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