Scholars Corner


Alexa Rodriguez will be earning her BA in Biological Sciences at Wellesley College in May. She is proud to be the first person in her family to graduate from a college institution and sincerely hopes that she is only the first of many. Alexa grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Compton, CA alongside her family. She is the daughter to the two most loving and self-sacrificing immigrant parents, and sister to one little brother. It is from her parents that she learned the indomitable work-ethic and discipline necessary to make dreams into realities. The foremost of her ambitions is to be a primary care physician in disadvantaged communities.

During her undergraduate career, she developed the confidence and leadership necessary to become an effective leader in her own community. For the last couple of years, she has spent her summer months volunteering at a hospital where she learned the importance of language and cultural understanding within the fabric of medicine. Furthermore, she understood that a successful career in medicine is one that is built upon the foundation of humility and teamwork. Her internship within the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services also helped drive this message home: it was through working with a team of motivated, brilliant people that she took part in designing educational workshops for community health workers.

Alexa plans to apply all that she has learned and experienced towards a career of service in medicine. She cannot wait until she can deliver compassionate care to her community. Her desire is to work with underrepresented and marginalized identities such as the undocumented, drug-addicted, ex-convict, and homeless populations in Los Angeles. In the far future, Alexa has every intention of starting a pipeline connecting underrepresented and disadvantaged students to opportunities that would allow them the ability to dream big.

Alexa is thankful to all the support she has received thus far. Had it not been for Scripps College Academy, she would not have applied to Wellesley. Had it not been for the Questbridge Match Scholarship, she could not have financed her education. She is immensely grateful towards her web of faithful supporters, friends, and mentors for being with her every step of the way. Lastly, Alexa thanks LMSA West Cynthia Felix Scholarship Committee for believing in her and helping her press forward towards the future she has been fighting for.



Gardenia Casillas was born and raised in Salinas, California. She comes from a large, low-income, immigrant family from the states of Nayarit and Michoacán, Mexico. In her life, her parents have been the strongest influence. With their own cultural skills, they became intermediates for those who could not defend themselves, never being afraid to stand up to authority. They did this without question and never expecting compensation. Consequently, early on she learned the importance of acknowledging and serving the people who work with their hands, the farm workers, construction workers, and plumbers that held jobs like those of her parents. They ingrained in her the values of respect, hard work, and service. These bricks build her foundation and have pushed her in the direction of medicine. Gardenia acquired a college degree in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014. She is currently a UC Davis Post-Baccalaureate student. In the future, she hopes to combine medicine with her passion for activism, research, and community organizing to ultimately rethink the way medicine is practiced in her community.


Jessica Chavez is completing her informal postbacc through UCLA Extension and has earned her B.S. in Biology at UCLA in 2015. During her undergraduate career, she became a leader in Chicanos for Community Medicine (CCM) through DoT Org. In DoT Org, she began developing her passion for health education as she was able to educate primarily Spanish speaking patients about the importance of registering to become an organ and tissue donor. Her love for the medicine further grew while working as an ER Technician in Inglewood, California where she found herself helping bridge the gap between cultural and linguistic barriers such that all patients could receive excellent care. After this, Jessica faced difficult hardships necessitating her to postpone her education and potentially not go into medicine. However, through God’s help and the rich community she was blessed with through mentors such as Dr. Efrain Talamantes from MiMentor and through LMSA West, she was able to continue her education. She is truly thankful for everyday of life that she can continue making progress towards her dream of providing quality care for under-served communities. Jessica thanks the LMSA West Cynthia Felix Scholarship Committee for believing in her dreams and for their continued support throughout this journey.


Karla Navarro:  Picture for Cynthia Felix Scholarship“My relationship with medicine started very early on.  My mother explains I was born with biliary atresia and had a liver transplant at six weeks of age.  She figured it was due to the pesticides she was exposed too while she worked in the agriculture fields picking grapes. Til this day, she detests wine.  Through the first liver transplant, I contracted hepatitis C through a blood transfusion, which led to a second liver transplant.  My life has since been a constant reminder of the miracles of medicine and the commitment of physicians and their teams.  Growing up, I felt there was a giant arrow pointing me in the direction of a career in medicine.  I pursued that instinct to the best of my ability with the resources I had access too.  I graduated from UCLA with my bachelor’s in Spanish and completed a postbaccalaureate program at CSUEB.  During my undergraduate studies, I was involved in organizations like CCM and MiMentor.  These organizations provide a network for pre-health students to guide them through their academic and professional journey.

I have also previously worked as a medical scribe with several physicians in different fields that allowed me to gain a better understanding of the healthcare model.  I currently work as a certified medical interpreter in several hospitals, clinics, and court hearings.  My current line of work fits in perfectly with my future goals of serving as an advocate for underserved communities.  My plan is to return to my hometown in the central valley and practice medicine.  I am very grateful for all the support from mentors, friends, and family that has allowed me to get to where I am now.”


 Alexis Velazquez is the youngest of five children and was raised in a small farming community in Northern California called Grimes. Like many residents of Grimes, his parents left their friends and families to work in low paying agriculture jobs under inhumane working conditions, often coming to the country with out documents. Because of this, many of his family and neighbors did not have access to basic healthcare services and those that did, often only spoke Spanish and could not communicate with their physicians. Alexis gained an interest in medicine and Latino health after serving as a translator for friends and family and noticing the debilitating effects that the injustices of worker exploitation, poverty and lack of health care access was having on his family and community. As a student at UCLA, Alexis has been extremely involved throughout Los Angeles and Baja California by providing basic health services for medically underserved communities at local health fairs. He has also served as the Outreach Director for Donations of Tissues and Organs (DoT Org), whose mission is to increase awareness about the disparity that exists for minority patients waiting for a organ transplant. He now serves as the LMSA Liaison for CCM at UCLA and as one of the Vice Presidents of Special Events for, a website designed to help undergraduate students connect with mentors. Alexis is currently a third year Chicana/o Studies Major and Public Health Minor with hopes of attending medical school and one day helping eliminate health disparities that exist throughout the Latino and minority communities.

 Andrea Banuelos is proud to be the first in her family to graduate from high school and obtain a college degree. Andrea grew up in a low-income community in the San Fernando Valley and is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her father was a gardener and her mother is a house-cleaner. Through her humble upbringing, she learned to appreciate the value of an education and realized that not everyone has the privilege to pursue his or her educational dreams. For that reason, she has worked hard throughout her school years. She graduated valedictorian from her high school and was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. From a young age, Andrea has had a passion for serving communities like the one she grew up in. She knows first–hand the struggles that low-income underserved community members endure and she wants to do her part towards alleviating those struggles–particularly those related to health care and health care access. It is this passion that has driven her desire to pursue a career in medicine. She aims to apply her love for science and her passion for her community as a future physician and patient advocate. Andrea is currently completing a post-baccalaureate program at California State University, Northridge and works at a free clinic located in Pacoima, CA, that is named Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND). She will soon take the MCAT exam and plans to apply to medical school in 2015.

 Jennifer Pinal is earning her B.A. in Integrative Biology with an emphasis in Human Biology and Health Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley.  During her undergraduate career, she pursued community involvement through Chicanos/Latinos in Health Education where she provided health-related resources for the Bay Area population concerning preventable and chronic diseases that disproportionally affect the Latino and other underrepresented communities. Interested in clinical research to combine her passion for community health and science, she participated in the Undergraduate Research Internship at UCSF, where she conducted research that assessed the use of a computerized teaching tool to inform women of different socioeconomic and literacy levels about prenatal testing options. Venturing further into clinical research, Jennifer completed an honors thesis at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Center studying the hemoglobinopathy, Thalassemia, and its impact on physical activity patterns. Jennifer currently works at a federally qualified health center in her hometown in Pomona and volunteers for a non-profit that serves the medical and dental needs of communities in Tijuana, Mexico. Jennifer plans to serve underserved communities and continue doing research as a doctor in the future. With support from the Biology Scholars Program, mentors, and LMSA for this scholarship, Jennifer is paving the way for her twin boys to pursue their dreams and make a difference in peoples’ lives.

 Maria Rosales is a post-baccalaureate student at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, and attended Pitzer College as a Gates Millennium Scholar where she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Human Biology and Spanish. Her family immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, and she was born and raised in Compton, CA. She is the oldest sibling in her family, and works very hard to be a good example for her younger sister. As a student at Pitzer, Maria’s internships in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Ecuador helped to focus her medical interest on Chagas disease, one of the least known and most deadly tropical diseases affecting vulnerable populations in Latin America and the U.S. She saw this experience as preparation for her future work in increasing awareness of this lethal disease. Maria volunteers in her community including the annual CDU Project Santa Claus, and the SAT Prep Outreach and Mentorship Program at King/Drew High School, where she mentors students from similar upbringing to pursue higher education. As the President of the Charles Drew University Pre-Med Society, she works in making a supporting environment for all post-bacc students who want to apply to medical school like herself. Her ultimate goal is to continue serving her community as a physician, to make a positive impact through her work in the Latino and other underserved communities, and to mentor the future generations to come. Maria thanks the LMSA-West Cynthia Felix Scholarship Committee for believing and supporting her dreams in pursuing a medical school education.
 Axana Rodriguez-Torres is a transfer pre-medical student at the University of California, Davis where she will double major in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior / Psychology in 2014. She has been a medical student in her home country, Colombia, where she did half of the medical program before having to postpone it for family reasons. Axana is fully in love with medicine, serving and giving back to her community and peer students. She is highly self-motivated, goal oriented and has persevered through several challenges to be where she is today. The standard she sets for herself has not allowed her to give up on her dream. When she came to the United States, economic reasons made her stop studying for several years. However, after that, she restarted from the undergraduate level looking to enter a US medical school. Medicine is the reason and drive of her life. She will make every possible effort to achieve that dream in the name of those whose voices are not heard. Axana volunteers at Clinica Tepati, one of the UCD student-run free clinics, in Sacramento devoted mainly to the Latino uninsured population where she serves as interpreter and advocate. The combination of passion for medicine and helping her community, specially the underserved, with their deepest and vital needs fulfills her completely. Knowing that she can be of service to others means a great accomplishment. LMSA is now a great part of her journey, and it is thanks to their support and motivation that she can continue pursuing her dream.

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