Previous Scholars – “Sí Se Puede” Scholarship


Sydney Lopez grew up in Portola, CA, a small rural town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Her Mexican immigrant parent’s taught her the value of hard work while working side by side in her family’s restaurant starting when she was 9 years old. Sydney continued to work hard at UC Davis as a first-generation college student. She tutored students in chemistry and taught cadaver anatomy, conducted research at both UC Davis and UCSF as a NIH MARC fellow, presented research at 9 conferences, volunteered for a student-run clinic, Clinica Tepati, and completed a clinical internship in Oaxaca, Mexico. With all of these enriching experiences, she earned a bachelors of science in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, with a minor in Chicano/Chicana Studies in 2014.


In the years to follow, Sydney continued her interest and dedication to Latino health and diversity in the healthcare workforce while further developing her leadership skills. She worked at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing where she led a research study examining the barriers to wellbeing that Latina Caregivers face. Sydney worked with MiMentor to expand the mentorship organization to Northern California, served as the regional president and then became MiMentor’s first Chief Operations Officer. She also worked as a Spanish interpreter in Nicaragua with the UC Davis MEDICOS group.


Sydney is excited to move forward with her career as a physician leader for medically underserved communities starting with getting involved with LMSA as a medical student. She is thankful for all of the support she has received from family, friends, MiMentor, LMSA and mentors over the years and will continue to develop and support mentorship opportunities for future students.


Paola Lepe was born and raised in Southeast Los Angeles, California, in a two bedroom apartment with her five siblings and parents. Both of her parents immigrated from poverty stricken towns in Jalisco, Mexico, and instilled in her family a sense of gratitude towards the basic necessities in life. The first major challenge her family faced was when her older brother, Juan, was born with cerebral palsy. Witnessing her brother walk and run after 13 surgeries granted her an unwavering faith in medicine and rooted her desire to become a physician. This desire was challenged when her mother was left unattended in a busy local community hospital as she suffered three strokes. Her family relied on her to explain what the physicians shared, and she felt a tremendous pressure to deliver more than an interpretation of words. The lack of high quality preventative and acute hospital care that her mother received, in contrast to her brother, unearthed her desire to search for solutions to the healthcare crisis in underserved communities. These early experiences have rooted her personal mission to be a community physician, advocate, and leader in Latino and medically underserved communities offering patients high quality care with compassion, empathy, and respect. For the past six years, she has worked directly with medically underserved patients as a health navigator, weight management health coach, and currently as a Strategic Programs Specialist at Serve the People Community Health Center (STP-CHC). She was recently accepted into medical school and is looking forward to continuing her journey and build on her experiences to become a community physician improving the lives of the most vulnerable populations in the nation.



Janet Montelongo was raised by a single immigrant mother, from Guadalajara, Jalisco, in a humbled home in Ojai, California. Early on, Janet learned the true definition of hardwork when she began assisting her mother clean houses at the age of 13. With Janet’s perseverance, resourcefulness and desire to help her family have a better quality of life, Janet graduated from her high school as the only Latina at the top 10 of her class. She then pursued her academic endeavors at UC Davis where she graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in Spanish. Through her involvement with community-based research projects and her clinical experiences locally and internationally, Janet learned how to effectively advocate for patients like her mother as well as the importance of providing culturally competent care to them. Working as a medical scribe taught her how crucial it is to help indigent communities increase their health literacy so they can have a more active role over their health. As a physician, she will join the fight towards achieving health equity.


Upon graduating from UC Davis, Janet participated in UC Irvine’s Postbaccalaureate Program. There she had the opportunity to participate in Doctors for Diversity where she collaborated with medical students to spark the curiosity of underserved students to the world of medicine. As a first generation college graduate, Janet understands how important it is to be mentored which is why she is currently serving as an ambassador for MiMentor. Janet is determined to help other aspiring healthcare professionals receive mentorship opportunities.


Martha Rodas grew up in Santa Ana, California, in a Spanish-speaking, multigenerational home. As the eldest of three siblings and first to learn English, Martha served as her family’s interpreter. In this role, she learned early on, about the economic barriers that inhibit health. She witnessed her mother regularly debate whether or not to purchase a medication, and she helped care for her great-grandfather who had rarely sought medical care throughout his life. These experiences encouraged Martha to become a physician. Martha was the first in her family to graduate high school. She continued her education at UCLA.

As an undergraduate, Martha was actively involved in Chicanos/Latinos for Community medicine (CCM). In CCM, she used her bilingualism at free health fairs, she developed her leadership skills as a board member, and she gained a network of supporting mentors. Since graduating, Martha has worked as a tutor and served two years as health educator, as part of AmeriCorps Community HealthCorps at AltaMed. As a health educator, Martha led presentations on nutrition and chronic disease management in clinic lobbies, exam rooms, and community centers. She also provided additional resources to patients that struggled to be healthy in their environment.

Martha’s family role ignited her interest in health equity and has encouraged her to serve as an advocate for similar low-income, underserved families. She hopes to positively influence change in underserved communities and mentor pre-medical students along their path.


Cecilia Ramirez was born and raised in Bellflower, California by Mexican and Guatemalan immigrant parents. She is a first-generation student who attended Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry. Growing up, she dedicated her vacations to cleaning apartments and helping her parents with landscaping to make ends meet. She saw the struggles and consequences of not pursuing a higher education, and so she began to seek free resources to advance her education.  

While attending LMU, she recognized the need of mentorship for individuals with similar stories like herself. As a result, she established and led two mentorship organizations which serve as pipeline programs to increase the number of underrepresented and first-generation students in medicine. Furthermore, she served as a Clinical Assistant at Venice Family Clinic, where she cared for individuals like her family members who are uninsured, low-income, or homeless. While working as a Scribe at an Emergency Room, conducting community-based participatory research in South Los Angeles, and participating in the Harbor-UCLA Summer Urban Health Fellowship, Cecilia continued to witness how socio-cultural-economic factors and public policies impact health. She discovered the power of her voice and used it to lobby with uninsured and undocumented individuals to California legislators for a more equitable healthcare system. Cecilia now serves as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Health Policy Fellow in Washington, D.C. Cecilia is extremely grateful for her family, all the mentors in her life, and LMSA for being an integral part of her journey to medical school.



Lizette Rodriguez

Lizette Rodriguez was raised in Woodlake, CA in a migrant farm working family of 7. Her parents immigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico; she is proud of being raised by immigrants and is grateful to have parents who risked the comfort of their home in Mexico to provide a better life for their family. She earned a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition Science with an emphasis in Biochemistry from the University of California, Davis. As an undergraduate student she volunteered at Clinica Tepati, participated in cancer immunology research, and learned about the importance of community nutrition though the research project Niños Sanos, Familia Sana. She then enrolled in the UC Davis School of Medicine Postbaccalaureate Program to further strengthen her skill-set as a student and improve her academic record. Following the program, she enrolled in the UC Davis Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology Program and earned a Masters of Science degree. Lizette was interested in the intersection between demographics, nutrition, and health in farm working communities. As a graduate student, she continued volunteering at Clinica Tepati as a nutrition educator, and led a research study analyzing the impact the 2011-2015 California drought had on farm workers and their food security status. Participating in community based research motivates her to continue using her role in academics and medicine as a form of activism for underrepresented communities. Her personal background, volunteer work, and research findings exposed her to the social factors that often time affect the health and well being of communities at large. She will continue building on the progress that has been made to reduce health disparities in our communities.

Lizette was recently accepted into medical school and is excited to start her journey as a medical student and participate in LMSA. She is the first in her family to pursue a degree in medicine, but won’t be the last! She credits her academic success to the tremendous support she received from family, friends, and mentors. She is thankful for organizations like LMSA and MiMentor for creating spaces that have motivated her to stay on track. Que siga la lucha!


Vanessa Rangel

Professional Picture_Vanessa RangelShe spent part of her childhood in Mexico, while her father worked as an undocumented gardener in California. Her mother raised her and her siblings in Mexico before they were able to relocate to La Habra, California. Growing up she recognized the opportunity to overcome the challenges that her family faced through a good education. After attending UCLA, she realized that, like herself, many people in underserved communities experienced disparities during situations in which they were unable to pay for their medications and/or were denied access to comprehensive care due to health insurance coverage limitations. Vanessa’s desire to pursue medicine were solidified through experiences in organizations such as Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine (CCM), Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC) Summer Scholars Program, UCLA PREP, HIGH AIMS, and many others. With the leadership experience she gained as the President of MiMentor, she hopes to continue implementing innovative mentoring programs to help reach more pre-health professional students in an effort to continue advancing the research and service of the medical field. Currently participating in AltaMed’s AmeriCorps program, she organizes health screenings and flu shot clinics for underprivileged communities that lack regular access to primary care providers. This year she will be continuing her studies as an incoming UCLA PRIME student pursuing a combined MD/MBA to become a strong leader in medicine for medically underserved communities. Vanessa would like to thank her great mentors and LMSA for helping her achieve her goals by believing in her throughout undergraduate and postgraduate years.


Anabel Alcatraz Vargas

Anabel Alcaraz Vargas, PhotoShe is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrant parents. Growing up in Echo Park and forming part of a low-income, mixed-status immigrant family directly exposed Anabel to the plight of underserved communities and inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. She understood that family and community members were not receiving quality health services due to socio-economic factors. At UCLA, Anabel took on leadership roles within Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine (CCM) and the Latino Student Health Project (LSHP) because both student-led organizations embrace social justice and health equity. Anabel wants to share her lived experiences, and utilize her education to empower individuals who are often overlooked within our health care system.

Anabel’s experiences as a first-generation college student and low-income Latina have strengthened her interest in primary care and academic medicine. In addition to being a clinician, she aspires to be a physician advisor for a medical pipeline program. Anabel firmly believes that educating and mentoring tomorrow’s health care leaders will strengthen diversity efforts, and ultimately reduce health disparities. As a future physician leader, Anabel is committed to embracing her upbringing, advocacy work, leadership, and educational experiences to create transformative change and return to Echo Park and El Monte to deliver the best patient-centered care. She will work diligently to promote wellness and ensure underserved communities are treated with dignity and respect. Anabel will be starting UCLA PRIME in July.


Joaquin Michel was born and raised in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. He comes from a low-income, single-parent household of seven and is the first one in his family to go to college. To succeed academically, he immigrated to California when he was 16. As an immigrant, he struggled to find housing and employment to support himself. Despite having a full-time job during high school, his desire to succeed academically encouraged him to learn English in two years, and excel in his community service. The values he learned at home along with his own efforts have allowed him to attend UC Davis and seek opportunities to help heal those less fortunate as a physician.

Throughout his college career, he has served medically disadvantaged communities through his extensive bi-national clinical experience at Clinica Tepati, Oaxaca, Mexico, a health educator work at CommuniCare, and childhood obesity researcher in the Central Valley of California. The motivation he has gained by empowering patients to manage their physical and mental illnesses encouraged him to continue his service and guided his career choice toward primary care medicine. He is aware a medical career is challenging; however, his medical, academic, and life experiences have prepared him to overcome the obstacles along the way. At the end of the day, public service enhances his preparation and heartfelt commitment to continue advocating for healthcare equality and justice in under-served communities.

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Elina Serrano earned her B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012.  During her time in college, she pursued her interest in science and medicine through academic courses and research. While participating in the Undergraduate Research Internship at UCSF, she conducted clinical research on how doctor-patient communication influences colorectal cancer screening outcomes among Latino patients. Wishing to explore the role of basic research in medicine, she then spent a year working at a UC Berkeley neurobiology lab, where she used molecular cloning techniques to create a mutant library of a potassium channel hypothesized to play a key role in pain processing.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Mexico, Elina is able to relate to many of the challenges immigrants face and has actively addressed disparities in education, housing, and health care. In the past, she has participated in mentoring and tutoring programs to increase the number of minority students who pursue higher education and science-related careers. As a Spanish translator for a non-profit tenants’ rights organization, she provides Spanish-speaking tenants with tools to protect their own right to affordable and safe housing. She currently volunteers at a federally qualified health center in South Los Angeles, where she interprets for patients and educates them about diabetes.

In the future, Elina plans to combine a career in primary care and clinical research to improve the health of underserved populations. In her free time, she enjoys drawing and spending quality time with her family.

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Cecil Benitez was born in Mexico and grew up in Los Angeles. Not knowing how to speak English, transitioning into school was difficult and she was placed in English as a second language (ESL) classes.  The only subject that made sense to her during her early years in school was math.  As her English improved, Cecil fell in love with science and its ability to explain natural phenomena.  Eager to go to college, she worked hard in high school. Cecil was excited when she received the “big” envelop from UCLA and was selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar.  As a first-generation college student at UCLA, she learned the importance of programs supporting underrepresented minorities in the sciences.  Because of these programs, she was able to pursue a PhD in Developmental Biology at Stanford University.  For her thesis research, she studied how insulin-producing cells are made during the development of the pancreas.  These cells are important in maintaining proper sugar levels in the blood and if they die or malfunction diabetes results.  Cecil chose this topic because she wanted her research to address a disease that is prevalent in the Latino community.  As a graduate student, she enjoys mentoring students and giving back to her community by interpreting at a free clinic.  Through these and other experiences, Cecil’s passion for medicine grew. Her career goal is to apply the skills she learned in graduate school to improve the lives of Latinos as a physician.

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Ngabo Nzigira grew up in Sacramento, CA and is the oldest of four children to two Rwandan Immigrant parents.  After High School Ngabo attended community college at both Cosumnes River college and Sacramento City College where transferred to UC Davis in 2009.  He graduated from the University of California Davis in 2011 with a B.S. in Nutrition Science with an emphasis in Biochemistry and a minor in Chicano Studies.  During his college career he was able to participate in immunology research at the UC Davis Cancer center and be a part of a few student organizations such as Minority Association of Pre Medical Students and be an undergraduate volunteer at the UC Davis free community clinic, Clinica Tepati. He also studied abroad for a three months in Oaxaca, Mexico with UC Davis’s Quarter Abroad Latino Health Internship program.  He is currently an active Peace Corps community health volunteer serving in San Juan, Ecuador. In his free time he likes to stay active, and one day hopes to truly master how to salsa, merengue and do the moonwalk. Ngabo is honored to be receiving the LMSA- Si Se Puede scholarship, which will help him manage some of the application expenses that would have most likely bankrupted his volunteer stipend.  Ngabo is thrilled at the possibly of one day being able to work with the Latino community as a future physician and thanks LMSA for giving him so much apoyo in his time of need.

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 Nanse Mendoza majored in Chemistry at California State University, Bakersfield. She grew up in Lamont, California, a small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley where many of the residents are immigrants from Mexico, just like her parents. Growing up, she witnessed her family and people in her community struggling to receive adequate medical care due to both linguistic and financial barriers. Nanse’s passion for the medical sciences combined with her personal and volunteer experiences has left her with a strong desire to become a physician in medically underserved communities similar to her hometown. As the first in her entire family to attend college, she hopes she can inspire her younger nieces and nephews to also pursue a higher education. In the future, she also look forward to being greatly involved with the Latino Medical Student Association since this organization’s goals are highly reflective of her own.

Between now and medical school matriculation, she will continue volunteering at a local hospital, continue her lab research at CSUB, and work as a medical scribe. In her free time, she likes spending time with her family and discovering new sushi places with friends.

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 Ashley Smith was born and raised in Spokane Valley, WA, about 20 miles west of the Washington-Idaho border.  She graduated from East Valley High School in 2007 and went on to attend college at the University of Washington in Seattle. There, she became the first in her family to earn a Bachelor’s degree, majoring in Spanish, while completing all of she pre-med prerequisites. While at the UW, she became involved in various service-based organizations, such as Kappa Delta Chi Latina based Sorority, and the Al Shifa student-run clinic. While serving with both of these organizations, Ashley came to the conclusion that her University lacked an organization that catered specifically to the needs of Latino Pre-med students. After working closely with the Latino Medical Student Association at the UW School of Medicine, she, along with 9 of her peers, established a chapter of Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine at UW in 2011. After graduating in the spring of 2012, she found a job working as a health educator in rural central Washington. Ashley teaches an after school nutrition program to elementary school kids, as well as a nutrition and life skills class to low-income adults at the local DSHS offices. She truly enjoys her work and plans to incorporate nutrition and public health aspects into her future career as a physician. Ashley is excited to become a primary care physician so she may return to smaller communities, such as the one she currently works in, to serve Latino and medically underserved populations.

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Nancy Rivera was born and raised, by her working class immigrant parents from Mexico, in a monolingual Spanish speaking home in Modesto, California. At 14 years old, Nancy started working part-time. She developed time management skills and graduated as Salutatorian of her high school class. In college, she invigorated a mentoring campaign, tutored students in chemistry, cared for patients during medical missions to Mexico, and conducted research at UC Davis Medical Center and as a CURE Fellow at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Nancy has also presented her research over nine times during her undergraduate and graduate career. After earning a B.S. in Nutrition Science with an emphasis in Biochemistry from UC Davis, Nancy chose to pursue a M.S. in Nutritional Biology. As a graduate student completing her Master’s thesis at UC Davis, she currently investigates the effects that dietary bioactives have on lipid metabolism.

Nancy is committed to providing quality health care access to members of underserved communities. She has been a bilingual volunteer for more than six years—and seven different positions—at Clínica Tepati, a free student-run clinic in Sacramento for the uninsured and underserved. Currently, she is a nutrition educator for the clinic’s diabetic patients where Nancy teaches them how to manage their disease through healthier lifestyle choices.

Nancy is the first-generation born in the U.S., first-generation to attend college, and first in her entire—and very large—Mexican family to conduct research, take the MCAT, and pursue a professional degree. Despite her humble upbringing, Nancy is paving the way so she won’t be the last. Thanks to the LMSA Scholarship, Nancy is one step closer to reaching her dream: doing what she loves and making a difference through medicine.

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Renzo Corzano was born in Peru; at the age of ten he moved to the United States. He graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. In September 2008, he joined the City of Hope Graduate School of Biological Sciences and will receive his Ph.D. in 2014. His research in the laboratory of Dr. John Williams in the Department of Molecular Medicine is focused on the inhibition of STAT3, a transcription factor often upregulated in certain types of cancers. In 2011, he published his first co-first author paper showing that the DNA binding activity of STAT3 can be inhibited by alkylation of cysteine 468 by compound C48. In 2012, he received the Dr. Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate Student Fellowship for his research at City of Hope. He is a volunteer instructor for the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) Science Education Partnership Award Collaborative (SEPAC), where he teaches 5th graders about the spread of disease. He is also a General Educational Development (GED) math and science teacher at Inland Valley Recovery Services (IVRS), and a mentor for Uncommon Good Connect to College Mentoring Program.

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 Edgar Corona is a Latino first generation college graduate who grew up in Baldwin Park, California, a low-income suburban community in the greater Los Angeles area.  Through his family’s medical experiences, Edgar visited large public hospitals, where he was witness to the vast health inequities that severely effect low-income working-class communities of color. While these encounters with healthcare in the United States severely impacted Edgar and his family, they also sparked in him a desire to practice medicine and a passion to work towards eliminating health disparities and health access barriers. After graduating from Baldwin Park High School, Edgar attended UCLA believing that he was only 4 undergraduate years away from becoming a doctor. Only later, while navigating his way through college did he learn about medical school, USMLE exams, residency, board certifications, continuing medical education, etc. Unfazed by the medical pathway knowledge-gaps first generation students often encounter and excited about the prospects of life-long learning, he majored in Biochemistry, minored in Chicana/o Studies, and excelled in his coursework, while developing a critical perspective through which he observed the many institutional and systemic barriers that result in too few minority students in medicine.

In search of like-minded individuals, Edgar found student-run and student-lead spaces that would forever reframe the lens through which he perceived complex U.S. and global social issues: conciencia libre, Proyecto de Jornaleros, Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine, the Community Programs Office Students Association, among others. Heavily involved as a student organizer, Edgar’s service learning experiences solidified his commitment to serve historically marginalized communities by working to eliminate educational and health disparities as a physician. Edgar is a believer of popular education pedagogy, convinced in the power of community to promote health justice and sustainable, equitable change.