Degree Program: Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics, B.S.
Department: Biomolecular Engineering
Hometown: Pomona, CA
Joseph Cruz, one of our outstanding 25th class of Baskin School of Engineering graduates, transferred to UC Santa Cruz in 2020 from Mt. San Antonio College in southern California. As a Baskin Engineering student, he conducted universal flu vaccine development research with Professor Rebecca DuBois. He recently received the Chancellor’s Award, Dean’s Award, and Steck Award for this research.
What made you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomolecular engineering?
Growing up, I was always interested in biology. It wasn’t until I took a physics class at community college that I learned I also had a passion for engineering. I decided to combine both biology and engineering together to pursue a biomolecular engineering degree. After looking at biomolecular engineering programs to transfer to, I discovered UCSC’s program and knew right away it was the best fit for me.
Describe your undergraduate experience at Baskin Engineering and what you will miss the most.
My undergraduate experience at Baskin Engineering was great. I transferred during COVID from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California. Although I began my UCSC journey fully remote, I was able to move to Santa Cruz and take in-person classes by spring 2021. As soon as I arrived on campus, I immersed myself in several programs and took advantage of different research opportunities to make the most of my couple years here.
The thing I’ll miss most is working in Professor Rebecca DuBois’s Lab. I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement I received while conducting research in her lab.
Which programs were you a part of during your time at UCSC?
I was a part of quite a few different programs. One was the EOP STEM program. There, I met a phenomenal advisor named Jessica Macias. She provided me with consistent guidance and support, which included getting me into STEM Diversity, a program that provides low-income, minority students opportunities to gain hands-on research experience. Because STEM Diversity provided me with funding, I was able to focus on my studies and pursue research without having to worry about money.
I was also a member of MEP. MEP was a supportive community that allowed me to meet other engineering students at the Baskin School of Engineering. Another program I was a part of was STARS. I wish I would have taken advantage of STARS’s resources more while I was at UCSC, but I am thankful for the supportive environment it created for me and my fellow UCSC transfer students.
Could you describe the research you’ve been working on in the DuBois Lab?
I joined Rebecca DuBois’s lab in summer 2021 after completing her protein engineering course. She added me to a project called COBRA. The main goal of COBRA is to develop a universal flu vaccine through the generation of computationally designed influenza antigens that can elicit a broad, protective immune response. These computationally designed antigen flu vaccines have been proven to be up to 90% more effective than the standard flu vaccine which only provides protection against four or five of the most common influenza strains predicted for a given season.
My project focused on investigating a specific computationally designed antigen, termed NG2, to see how this protein is mechanistically behaving for potential vaccine use.
What’s next for you?
I got accepted into a Ph.D. program at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. I will start the program on August 1. My choice to pursue a graduate program after my bachelor’s degree didn’t get solidified until I joined the DuBois lab. I had such a positive experience doing research and could see myself doing it for many more years before eventually joining industry.
What advice do you have for fellow transfer students?
Take the leap of fate, get out there, and hit the ground running. We only have two or three years so it’s critical to start exploring programs early and create a solid plan by your first quarter at UCSC.
Also, community is really important in your overall success. Take advantage of the STARS program and other programs to build a community of support.
Interview Date: June 20, 2023
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