Ray Jara didn’t have college in mind until his freshman year at Patriot High School in Jurupa Valley, near Riverside.
“I never really knew what college was,” he said. But he liked science and was good at it. A junior-year trip to Northern California with AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college-readiness organization, brought him to UC Santa Cruz.
“Santa Cruz caught my eye, it’s an amazing college in the middle of the forest, by the beach,” he remembers. Another factor was UCSC’s reputation in astrophysics and physics, he said, an interest of his.
Jara, 21, is the first in his family to attend a four-year college. He is the only son of parents who were born in Mexico. One half-sister is older, and he has two younger sisters. His mother is a stay-at-home mom, now; his dad works in construction.
Just before he arrived as a first-year student, Jara changed his mind to electrical engineering.
He had been placed in advanced physics courses in his junior and senior years where he worked on circuits and electronic devices.
He admits to some doubts that first year, feeling engineering wasn’t what he wanted to do. But a friend he met playing basketball “kept on motivating me to stay, and I’m happy I stayed.”
His concentration now is on photonics and electronic devices, working in Professor Ali A. Yanik’s lab to create a biosensor.
The COVID shutdown has affected Jara’s plans. He initially hoped to complete the five-year undergrad-plus-masters program, but the online workload made it difficult and some required classes were cancelled. His plan now is to continue at UCSC to get his masters in electrical engineering.
That friend who encouraged him to stay in engineering also persuaded him to apply for a research symposium through the UCSC STEM Diversity Programs.
“I thought it was a scholarship,” Jara said. “I had no idea my major could have research.”
The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program provides funding for a research lab placement but leaves it up to the student to find and be accepted in a lab.
“I was lucky enough to get accepted by Ali,” Jara said.