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Lead mentor Jennifer Perdomo '15, mentor Deanna Romero '18 and incoming STEM student Vroniqua Ku'ulei Faustino '19 (left-to-right) at the closing day of the 2015 STEM Summer Jump Start program. The program is designed as a five-week residency for first-year STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students at Mount Saint Mary's.

A summer jump-start for STEM success

Vroniqua Ku’ulei Faustino ’19 just completed her first week as a biology major at Mount Saint Mary’s. She’s interested in dermatology and cancer research. Next summer, Faustino will conduct undergraduate research on the effect of cancer protein therapy on feminine cancers, such as breast and cervical cancers.              

Impressive, right? Even more impressive: She decided all of this before she even took her first class on campus this fall.              

Faustino attributes her early initiative to Mount Saint Mary’s STEM Summer JumpStart program, a five-week residency for incoming STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students, designed to help them make a successful transition to college life.              

While in the program, students take enhancement classes in math, writing, biology, chemistry and study skills. Field trips are taken to places such as the California Science Center and the Getty Museum, where students investigated how scientific research comes into play when conserving works of art.     

Perhaps just as importantly, Summer JumpStart enables first-year students to pair up with returning students who are serving as STEM mentors, and to interact with Mount Saint Mary’s STEM faculty.                

“The teachers are genuinely interested in helping you succeed,” Faustino says. “I can already tell that. They push you to do all that they know you can accomplish. You’re not just a number here.”               

This year’s Summer JumpStart program wrapped up July 31 with the University’s inaugural STEM Seminar: A Courageous Beginning, an all-day event that exposed students to the endless possibilities of careers in fields like biochemistry, math and health. Guest speakers included Herbert A. Medina, PhD, of Loyola Marymount University and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, and Lisa Watanabe, a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. STEM professionals, including several Mount alums, offered advice during Career Path panels.              

Jennifer Perdomo ’15 served as the STEM Summer JumpStart program’s lead mentor this year, after graduating in May. She spent the previous two years as a student mentor in the program.

“Being a first generation Latina in the STEM field was difficult,” Perdomo says. “I wanted to help those coming after me. I did not expect that I would develop strong leadership skills and gain so much experience by helping as a mentor, but thanks to the STEM program I have found the strength and encouragement to pursue my medical degree. The timid student is no more. I have become a strong Latina leader ready to become a physician, and to give back just as STEM has done for me.”    

The paying-it-back approach has already yielded results. Indeed, thanks to the support of faculty, staff and student mentors, many current Mount Saint Mary’s STEM students were selected to spend part of their summers participating in well-respected Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) across the United States, including:     

  • Ana De la Cruz ’17, biochemistry, at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Physics & Astronomy Department
  • Diana Esparaza ’16, biochemistry, at Notre Dame University’s Biology Department
  • Connie Cardona ’17, biochemistry, at University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program
  • Vivianna Sanchez ’17, biology, at USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at Catalina Island
  • Jennifer Aldous ’16, biology, at USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at Catalina Island
  • Daisy Galindo ’16, biochemistry, at University of Michigan Department of Pharmacology’s Charles Ross Summer Research Fellowship
  • Jennifer Gutierrez ’16, mathematics, City of Hope hospital, conducting mathematical research related to molecular medicine
  • Angelica Carmona ’17, biochemistry, City of Hope hospital, conducting research with Dr. Susan L. Neuhausen     

There will be plenty more opportunities ahead. And they begin now. During the second week of the school year (Aug. 31–Sept. 3), STEM faculty and staff will be hosting a STEM Spirit Week to encourage more students to consider majors and careers in these fields.  

For more information on the Mount’s STEM programs, contact Sandy Chávez, STEM Transition Center adviser, at, or Leticia Rodriguez, activity director for the Title III STEM Grant, at

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