Science major first in family to graduate college


lee2For the past four years, first generation American Lee Juarez has worked day and night to become the first in her family to attend college.
In the fall she will attend University of California, Merced.
MESA Director Cassandra Hernandez-Vives introduced Juarez into the idea of joining the program. She was hesitant at first, but realized it would help with her biological science major.
At Merced, Juarez will focus on cognitive science.
“It’s a bit more psychological. So you get to learn about the brain, learn about their functions, senses. What parts of the brain are triggered produced when learning a language,” she said.
Juarez wasn’t interested  in science until she saw the human side.
“I want to do research on the brain. Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, why do those things happen. How can we cure that? I guess I’m just curious about that other people think,”she said laughingly.
In high school, she felt pressure from her parents to pursue the medical field, “it wasn’t until my senior year of high school I thought to myself, ‘I do want to go towards the medical field … but there’s so much more you can do,’” she said.
People ask what she wants to be.
“I can’t really give them a direct answer because you can’t really predict where you’re going to be at in the future … I could go into research or I could even teach. It’s just so diverse,” she said.
Juarez realized the pressure from her parents wasn’t negative. They wanted the best for her.
“For four years they’ve seen me come home late, studying. I had to work at the same time trying to support my family. As a student, everyone has to do that,” she said.
During her time at Delta, she held four jobs at one time. Juarez was working 40-hour weeks and had to drop two classes, she found herself having time just for one class.
“I felt like a failure,” she said.
Juarez found solace in Hernandez-Vives and her family.
“Me and Cassandra are really close. There were times when I’d go to her crying. Go to my parents crying, and tell them I don’t know what to do,” she said.
It was Hernandez-Vives who advised her to cut down the work schedule, and forced Juarez to find balance in supporting her family and her education.
Her hard hours paid off.
She received a $23,000 grant from the UC Merced Foundation.
“When I read that letter I didn’t know how to react to that. I thought I read it wrong. I was excited,” she said, “I don’t have to pay it back it. Thank God for it, I’m totally blessed with that,” she said.
Juarez leaves Delta with a certificate in American Sign Language, two associate or art degrees, and an associate of science degree.