More Than Just a Job: Student Employees of the Year Find Passion, Purpose Through Campus Roles
At UC San Diego, many students aren’t “only” students—they’re also employees of the university. From research labs to the Chancellor’s Office and everywhere in between, you’ll find students who are getting paid to bolster their academic careers by gaining on-the-job experience in various fields.
“Student employment facilitates essential experiential learning opportunities that deepen their connections to faculty, staff and students throughout the university,” said Tod Oliviere, the director of student employment & career development at the UC San Diego Career Center.
“When student employment is designed as an intentional learning lab environment, students develop critical skills and core competencies during those work experiences that help prepare them to launch from college to career," Oliviere added.
This year, the university recognized 12 hardworking students as 2023 Triton Student Employees of the Year. Meet four of these standouts, nominated for their remarkable contributions to the UC San Diego community, and learn how their campus jobs have helped shape their future aspirations and prepared them for success in their chosen career fields and beyond.
VC Area: Health Sciences
Sevim Bianchi recently received her first medical school acceptance—and when she reflects on the path that led her to this moment, it’s about a lot more than just good grades and high test scores.
Bianchi, who graduated in June with a degree in human biology, spent the better part of three years as an undergraduate student researcher in the lab of Sandra Sanchez-Roige, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Medicine. First as a volunteer and later in a paid position, Bianchi helped support the lab’s work to elucidate the genetic underpinnings of behavioral health and substance use disorders, and even conducted her own research on the link between anorexia nervosa and impulsivity disorders.
“The mentorship that I gained through this employment was so valuable,” said Bianchi. “Dr. Sanchez-Roige is one of the reasons why I believe I got into medical school. As an undergrad, learning things and going to class is amazing, but it’s really about your connections and putting yourself out there.”
During her time in the Sanchez-Roige Lab, Bianchi proved herself as a rising star, co-authoring numerous papers published in high-impact journals and contributing to a perspective piece on the urgent need to increase diversity in genetic research. She also served as the president of the American Medical Women’s Association during her fourth year.
As she prepares for the next step in her journey toward becoming a physician, Bianchi believes her experiences in the lab have given her invaluable insights into how medical research is conducted.
“Doctors will get to read papers and apply the findings, but being able to learn where these findings come from was really important to me,” she said. “It really opened so many avenues for me in regard to my future career.”
VC Area: Health Systems
She’s midway through her final year as an undergraduate communication major at UC San Diego, but Merelyn Cedeno already knows firsthand what it’s like to work in her chosen career field. On top of her full-time academic course load, in which she’s maintained Provost’s Honors throughout her time at the university, she works part time as an editorial assistant in the Marketing and Communications department at UC San Diego Health.
How does she manage to do it all? “A lot of late nights,” Cedeno said with a laugh. But the benefit of working as a campus employee, she added, is that her manager, Rachel Thomae, Editor-in-Chief of UC San Diego Physician Update newsletter, understands that being a student always comes first.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to work for somebody who is not only a manager, but a mentor,” she said of Thomae. “I’m an overachiever and an overthinker, particularly with writing. She has helped me realize that it’s OK for someone to take your writing and mark it up. It ultimately makes you a better writer.”
For Cedeno, the position has provided her a safe space to make mistakes as a writer and learn from them. It’s also affirmed her desire to launch a career in journalism or internal communications after she graduates in June 2024.
Being recognized as a 2023 Triton Student Employee of the Year was a big surprise for Cedeno, who was nominated for her positive attitude, attention to detail and significant contributions to the newsletter. The recognition evoked a wave of emotions in her.
“I was just so happy about it,” she said. “Having this award and having someone acknowledge the efforts and the hard work that I do on top of being a student made it feel so special.”
VC Area: Office of the Chancellor
As a student administrative assistant in the Office of the Chancellor, Alec Parra-Miranda’s work ethic and friendly demeanor quickly caught the attention of those around him. Those initial impressions served him well: After graduating in June with a degree in political science, Parra-Miranda now works as a full-time UC San Diego employee in the role of Government and Community Relations specialist.
In large part, Parra-Miranda credits the experience and connections he gained as a student employee with setting him up for success in his current position.
While working in the Chancellor’s Office, Parra-Miranda interacted with a wide range of individuals, from fellow students to high-level campus leadership, community leaders and elected officials. Whether answering phone calls, greeting the Chancellor’s guests or performing various tasks around the office, his duties gave him what he calls an “eagle eye” perspective of the university.
“Learning the institutional landscape really prepared me for my current position,” said Parra-Miranda, who was given the opportunity to take on some tasks for Government and Community Relations as a student after expressing interest in pursuing a career in the field. “That’s where I really found my niche. I realized that this was something I definitely wanted to pursue full time.”
In his new role, Parra-Miranda is partnering with colleagues at UC San Diego Health to help renew its Human Rights Campaign Leader designation, which demonstrates that the university is a leader in LGBTQ+ and patient-centered care.
Parra-Miranda said the work is meaningful and rewarding— and that he can’t help but be grateful for the path that led him here.
“It’s not hard to wake up for this job, because I really like what I do, and I like that I can continue learning the dynamics of how an institution represents itself in these spaces,” he said. “It all started with speaking up about what I was interested in.”
VC Area: Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion
In the lab of renowned geneticist Rusty Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, fifth-year UC San Diego doctoral student Jasmin Revanna is studying how microglia—the immune system cells of the brain—impact the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The work is meaningful and rewarding, but her quest for purpose doesn’t stop there. Outside the lab, she’s dedicated her time to mentoring undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds who are working toward degrees in STEM fields.
“For students, I think being able to see others who look like them and are getting their Ph.D. makes it seem like a more feasible goal,” said Revanna, who has long drawn inspiration from her mother, a physician who came from a small village in India. “She really had to fight for where she is now,” she added of her mother. “She’s always inspired me to keep going.”
During her second year in the UC San Diego Biological Sciences Ph.D. program, which exists through a partnership with Salk, Revanna learned about an employment opportunity for graduate students to serve as advocates with the PATHways to STEM through Enhanced Access and Mentorship (PATHS) Scholars program on campus.
The program, which aims to increase the number, persistence and success of underrepresented students in STEM fields and medicine, provided Revanna with the chance to help undergraduate students navigate institutional barriers, use their voice and take action as they pursue their academic and career goals.
Through her work as a graduate advocate, Revanna has helped provide guidance on crafting resumes, writing personal statements, applying to graduate programs and reaching out to principal investigators to inquire about research opportunities. Her efforts have paid off, with more than 90% of the scholars she has mentored being admitted to competitive summer research programs and labs.
As she plans to pursue a career in venture capital, Revanna said she believes that her experience working for the PATHS Scholars program has equipped her to continue to advocate for equity in scientific fields and beyond.
“As I move on to these very different roles, I’ll continue to push the boundaries and make sure that the workspace I’m in is equitable,” she said. “I think roughly 7 percent of venture capitalists are women, which is really low. Even just taking up space is something I’ve learned to do—using my voice and advocating for others.”
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