By Helen Widman
While many children with an itch for hands-on activity reach for LEGOs or Lincoln Logs, a young Lilly Garcia often opted for building IKEA furniture, according to her mom Chris Garcia. Originally from Arizona, Lilly grew up with a competitive spirit and a high-performance mindset—which could be why she grew up building furniture instead of little log houses.
Now at age 20, Lilly uses her hands-on mindset to study chemical engineering as a rising junior at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
“When I chose my major, I knew I wanted to end up doing medical research,” Lilly says. “I didn’t know how to really get there, and I knew that chemical engineering was really broad. Everyone tells you if you get a degree in chemical engineering, you could do anything, because people just want your problem solving skills and your critical thinking skills.”
Lilly is involved in SOLES, which stands for the Society of Latinx Engineers and Scientists, and it is the university’s student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Recently, Lilly received a scholarship through the CGIF and ACerS in conjunction with SHPE.
Although she pursues a dream of conducting medical research someday, Lilly approaches her academic career with a calm focus and strong will.
“I like the things I’m doing,” Lilly says. “I think maybe that’s what motivates me to keep doing all these things … It just doesn’t feel like work, it feels interesting and fun.”
Aside from building the occasional IKEA piece, Lilly also grew up an avid reader and indulged in math puzzles. While it wasn’t always clear that Lilly would pursue chemical engineering specifically, it helps that there’s already one in the family: her older brother.
“I think she could see that this degree was very flexible and would allow her to fine tune her academic interests down the line, in terms of picking a career as a chemical engineer,” Chris, Lilly’s mom, says.
This summer, Lilly interned with pharmaceutical company Genentech in South San Francisco, of which Chris teems with pride about. Lilly sought out the opportunity herself through a connection at the company.
“Now she is in South San Francisco for 13 weeks, without family or friends,” Chris says. “She gets up on her own, takes two buses most days to get to her job at 8 a.m. She started the summer as a 19 year old, and has since turned 20. I miss her very much, but as a mom, this all makes me very proud.”
After Lilly graduates from UCLA, she plans to narrow down a specific area of medicine to pursue as she decides her future plans.
“I don’t know if that’ll be, go to graduate school directly after my undergrad or maybe go into industry, find a niche that I like and go back and study more so I can be an expert in drug delivery, or be an expert in molecular interactions,” Lilly says. “It’s very broad still.”
Glass microsphere technology allows for safe, effective drug delivery in the pharmaceutical industry. The CGIF’s newest kit, the Glass Science Kit, demonstrates the concept of glass microspheres in one of three demonstrations.
For now, Lilly plans to stay open minded and feels thankful to have the support of a scholarship as she completes her undergraduate journey.
“I really enjoy the feeling of support, that someone chose you,” she says. “‘You seem to have promise, you have potential, we want to support you.’ And that’s what I feel like is helping me (and) pushing me forward.”
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