Photo by Lee Choo

Senior Carolina Gonzalez, seen here working in biology professor Jonathan Kelber’s lab, is one of 15 CSUN students named Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars by the CSU. 

Being named a California State University Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar is the affirmation microbiology student Carolina Gonzalez was looking for as she enters her final year at California State University, Northridge.

“It means that people believe in me,” said Gonzalez, 33, a single mom. “I am among the first in my family to go to college, and there’s always this fear in the back of my mind that I am going to fail. But being named a Sally Casanova Scholar means that there are people who believe that I can do it, that I can go on to a Ph.D. program.”

Gonzalez is one of 15 outstanding CSUN students who were named Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars last month by the California State University system. In addition to a $3,000 stipend to support their research, the students may also apply to participate in a fully funded summer research experience at a University of California campus or another doctoral-granting institution.

Gonzalez, a senior, is currently spending her summer in biology professor Jonathan Kelber’s laboratory, studying the role the protein RAI 14 (Retinoic Acid Induced 14) plays in the development of pancreatic cancer cells, and doing an internship with CSUN biology professor Rachel Mackelprang at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, studying the characterization of a novel bacteria found on a space craft.

“All of CSUN’s Pre-Doc Scholars have one thing in common,” said Hedy Carpenter, director of graduate programs and CSUN’s California Pre-Doc program coordinator, who has managed the program for 30 years. “They all have faculty mentors who believe in their academic ability to succeed in earning a doctoral degree.”

Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar program is sponsored by the CSU Chancellor’s office and funded by the California lottery. It is designed to increase the pool of potential California State University faculty by supporting the doctoral aspirations of CSU students who have experienced economic and educational disadvantages. It was created as a tribute to the CSU’s former dean of academic affairs Sally Casanova, who oversaw the creation of the California Pre-Doctoral program in 1989. Casanova died in 1994.

Drawing from all 23 CSU campuses, a total of 74 students are selected for the annual honor. The program provides funding for visits to doctoral granting institutions, travel to national conferences, membership in professional organizations, and graduate school applications and test fees.

The other CSUN students named as 2019 Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars are:

• Ashtyn Isaak, marine biology; 

• Cristian Apolinar, criminology and justice studies;

• Crystal Venegas Silva, psychology;

• Essence Wilson, psychology;

• Jennifer White, family and consumer sciences;

• Justin Pardo, geological sciences;

• Madeline Awad, psychology;

• Maria Yera, biology;

• Marika Sigal, psychology;

• Natalie Souaid, mathematics;

• Roxana Lesso, psychology;

• Sara Shatela, biology;

• Skye Shodahl, psychology, and;

• Virginia Kartu Gomez, gender and women’s studies.

Carpenter noted that Northridge has the distinction of receiving more California Pre-Doc awards than any other CSU.

“This program opens the door to life-changing opportunities,” she said. “Countless CSUN students have been accepted into first-rate Ph.D. programs and many are now tenured professors throughout the US. The success of this program speaks for itself — it has increased faculty diversity within California and the US.”