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Elizabeth Castellanos

It was a postcard with a picture of Meadowlands Hall that led Elizabeth Castellanos to Dominican. The postcard arrived toward the end of Elizabeth’s junior year at an all-girls’ high school just outside Los Angeles. That little card made a big impact.

“I jokingly told my mom ‘this is the school I am going to go to,’” Elizabeth recalls.

A year later, when deciding between colleges closer to home and Dominican, Elizabeth toured Dominican’s campus, met with faculty in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and came to an immediate decision.

“I automatically fell in love with the place. I knew that this is where I was meant to be.”

Four years later Elizabeth, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and minors in mathematics and chemistry, has not regretted that decision for one moment.

“There was a line on the card from Dominican that said ‘This Place Changes People,’” she says. “I can honestly say that I have changed because of Dominican. This place has made me such a better person, a more independent person, and a person who is willing to step outside the box.”

In her freshman year, the honors student began working on research focused on targeting cancer stem cells for destruction. The following summer, she started a three-year internship at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where she joined a clinical research team studying asthma in Latin American and African American children to determine if asthma was a result of genetic or environmental factors.

This study eventually formed the focus of her senior thesis, and her work as an intern helped land Elizabeth a full-time job at UCSF.

Elizabeth plans to enroll in medical school in fall 2014 with the goal of working as a pediatric oncologist. Her decision to focus on pediatrics was formed during her sophomore year, when she participated in the Dominican/Kaiser Permanente Scholars and Mentors Program and spent the year shadowing Carol Ekelund, a pediatrician in Kaiser’s Petaluma medical facility.

“She was a great mentor and I will never forget all of the things she told me. I will remember the Kaiser program as one of the highlights of my work at Dominican.”

Other highlights include presenting research at the Tri Beta national conference in Puerto Rico. Elizabeth’s presentation focused on the success of the Dominican’s Intergenerational Conversation Program. The program fosters communication and understanding between generations by connecting Dominican science majors and older adults in Marin County.

Service has been a major focus of Elizabeth’s four years at Dominican. She tutored school-aged children, many of whom are from families in which English is not the first language, with community partner Canal Alliance through the University’s Service-Learning program. She also spent many hours volunteering at Children’s Hospital Oakland, both in the Pediatric Oncology unit and during the hospital’s annual asthma camp for children.

Elizabeth particularly values the time she has spent serving as a mentor with the Hispanic Youth Institute. She has spent recent summers working with high school students in the San Jose area.

“I enjoy getting to know the students and showing them that there are alternatives to gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, and violence,” she says.

“As a first-generation student myself, I am really able to connect with students and share my story with them. As an educated Latina, I am in a great position to deliver a very powerful message: If I can do it; they can do it too.”

On May 18, Elizabeth was cheered on by her mom, dad, and three brothers. Their cheers grew louder when Elizabeth received Dominican's Outstanding Student Award. As the first female in her family to attend college, she is adamant that the last four years at Dominican would not have been possible without their support. She values their daily phone conversations and Google + hangouts.

“My parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico and started with nothing. We are a traditional Mexican family, so it was a big decision for me to move more than 400 miles away from home to attend college. To have my family in the audience – that’s all I need.”

And, the card that led Elizabeth to Dominican, continues to work its magic.

“My mom has it posted on the fridge, so she can look at it when we talk to each other on the telephone.”

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