Posted on May 5, 2023 by College of Sciences

Emily Perez

Emily Perez, Microbiology and Immunology Major

By Pelle Muñoz

Meet Emily Perez, undergraduate researcher in the Soo Chan Lee Lab and ESTEEMED Microbiology and Immunology student.

Emily considered the Microbiology and Immunology degree offered by the College of Sciences to be a crucial factor in their decision-making process. When exploring potential schools, they observed that most institutions offered either a biology or molecular biology degree, but very few had a degree program centered on microbiology. Emily also found the numerous undergraduate programs aimed at involving students in research to be a positive influence in their choice. Early involvement in research was one of Emily's primary objectives, and UTSA was able to provide this early in their academic journey.

Emily has an unwavering adoration for their program. "I love biology, but microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa specifically have always been a special favorite of mine," they said. "Going into college with this love of microbes and knowing I wanted to pursue research, the microbiology and immunology major seemed to fit just right for my passions."

Prior to attending UTSA, Emily lacked any research experience. Their initial introduction to research took the form of the five-week ESTEEMED program bootcamp during the summer before their first year. This experience involved conducting water sampling laboratory exercises and delivering a brief presentation. Subsequently, Emily volunteered at the Witte Museum several times each week, with a focus on science-oriented tasks. Through these experiences, Emily developed a passion for public outreach, especially in relation to the sciences.

In addition to her experience with the ESTEEMED program, Emily found a place in the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), an organization that prioritizes global public health. Emily currently serves as both the secretary and communications officer for ASM at UTSA.

Additionally, Emily and the other ASM officers have been hosting an outreach activity with Garcia middle school this spring semester. ASM officers and members come in for one day each month and teach a lesson and lab over a microbiology topic with the goal of getting seventh graders engaged and excited about science.

Since 2021, Emily has worked in the lab of Soo Chan Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, who studies a broad range of fungi that pose serious threats to public health. The project they are working on observes the gut brain pathway of Candida albicans , an infection-causing fungus, and its relationship to Alzheimer's disease. "I absolutely love the diversity of the project as I get to work with mice, organoids and fungi."

The research presentations Emily has been a part of include the UTSA 2023 Spring Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry Showcase, the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) 2022 conference, and the Capital of Texas Undergraduate Research Conference (CTURC) 2023.

On top of their extracurriculars, Emily is a part of the UTSA Honors College. The honors experience provides a significant impact on students by providing them with opportunities to explore the multidimensional aspects of college. These opportunities allow students to take courses that they find enjoyable, such as river ecology and paddle making, which they might not have otherwise been able to participate in or earn credit for.

"Those extra experiences have gone a long way in making my college experience truly memorable," said Emily. "The mindfulness built into the honors experience allows me to take a break with one of the weekly activities and gently forces me to seek activities beyond strictly academics."

Emily has learned a lot from their experience at UTSA. The best advice they have received was to face uncertainty with conviction and self-assurance. "Even if there are uncertainties, or you may not know exactly what you are doing, show up and take the unexpected opportunities that may reveal themselves." For Emily, this has been a strong motivator to take on research challenges and push themselves outside of their comfort zone in regard to presentations and conferences.

Emily also emphasizes the importance of getting involved on campus. "You will thrive by doing things you actually enjoy. Passion and enjoyment will help you get through the stress and challenges you will face throughout your college career."

Emily aims to graduate in 2024 with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the microbiology field after graduation. Their career goals are to work in a governmental setting overseeing research and/or outreach (i.e. the CDC, WHO, etc.). "I believe knowledge should be shared and accessible for everyone and hope to have a hand in ensuring that."

Emily Perez was recently featured in the UTSA episode of the popular series The College Tour available on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV. Hosted by Emmy-nominated storyteller Alex Boylan, the series highlights universities and colleges across the nation to showcase what college life is like at each university through some of the unique student stories at each location.

— College of Sciences
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