Hispanic Heritage Month with Anjelica Cárdenas

At the UC Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, we are proud to recognize the achievements and contributions of our Hispanic American community to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. This year’s annual celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month marks an important milestone for UCI. As we celebrate the contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, we locally recognize the engagement of all UCI members that support us as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

Anjelica Cárdenas ’22, an alumna from the PhD in Pharmacological Sciences program and a current postdoc at the University of California, Los Angeles, closes out our Hispanic heritage highlights by sharing what motivates her studies and career in STEM.

Cárdenas was born and raised in the high desert of Southern California. At first, she was drawn to a career in science after watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But when her grandfather was diagnosed with a severe brain cancer, it changed her career trajectory.

What is your favorite Hispanic tradition, dish, or destination, and why?

I’m proud my large extended family still comes together for the holidays to share stories of different life events and make tamales. Mexican food is my comfort food. Another family favorite is menudo.

“Having limited access to resources to understand this terrible disease was devastating; however it drove me to study and better understand the diseases that afflict our loved ones,” Cárdenas said. “Specifically, I became interested in pharmacology to understand disease better and identify potential therapeutic targets.”

As a PhD student in the Lotfipour Lab, Cárdenas’ research focused on how adolescent nicotine exposure increases the subsequent use of other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, or opioids.

Cárdenas’ grandparents were migrant workers. They worked hard and traveled throughout the United States to give their family opportunities beyond the fields. Cárdenas says their sacrifice and hard work motivated her to work hard and reach her dreams.

UCI received its federal HSI designation from the U.S. Department of Education in May 2017. This designation recognized that fully one-quarter of all undergraduates identified as Latino, and half of all students received financial aid. The designation has become more than a pride point on the campus as it has translated to resources and funding that supported undergraduates and graduate students during the height of COVID-19. Chicano/Latino students currently comprise 25 percent of all undergraduates and 12 percent of all graduate students enrolled at UCI.       

With growing opportunities and resources available to support Hispanic students, Cárdenas believes representation and community are equally important. According to Cárdenas, one of the major challenges she faced in her academic career was the lack of Hispanic role models in higher education, especially women.

To find her community at UCI, Cárdenas was a member and part of the board at Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and encouraged other students to join.

“Find your community to share your struggles and accomplishments with. I found community in the SACNAS UCI Chapter, my lab mates, and other grad students from similar backgrounds or who do similar research. It provides an opportunity to network with peers in STEM, hear the amazing stories from people at different stages of their careers, and celebrate everyone.”

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