Simon Scholar Ricardo Espinoza Hernandez, a rising senior biology major, is currently working at the University of Iowa as a part of their REU program. Ricardo answered questions for fellow students interested in pursuing research, shared his research experience, as well as his experience as a Simon Scholar,  and what that means to his undergraduate career at Chapman University.

The Simon STEM Scholars Program launched in 2015 as a partnership between Chapman and Orange High School. The program offers select students who plan to major in a STEM discipline – science, technology, engineering or math – unique mentorship to prepare them for admission to Chapman, as well as a full scholarship.

Q & A

Q: What is your research focus?

A: My project’s topic for the summer is identifying the endonuclease responsible for pre-tRNA cleavage during gammaherpesvirus infection. We are using siRNA to knockdown three endonuclease candidates and seeing how this might influence the levels of tRNA fragments (which are derived from pre-tRNA being cleaved). We are also interested in seeing how these tRNA fragments might influence viral replication.

Q: How has your Chapman experience prepared you for conducting research at the University of Iowa?

A: I am a member of the Waldrop Lab with Dr. Waldrop, and I believe that being involved in research at Chapman really motivated me to seek this summer research experience. I joined Dr. Waldrop’s lab in 2020 and ever since then I have been very interested in research. I came to Jose Bejar, who is the Schmid College Career Advisor and asked him if he would be able to help me find some way to gain more experience in research outside of Chapman. He let me know about the REU programs that are held in the summer and how to find one that fit my interests. Dr. Waldrop and Dr. Schwartz were also very helpful in the application process since they did me the huge favor of writing letters of recommendation on my behalf for the programs that I was applying for, and I can’t thank them enough for doing so.

Q: How has the Simon STEM Scholars Program impacted your experience?

A: The Simon STEM Scholars Program has impacted my experience through giving me the encouragement to step outside of my comfort zone. Before this experience, I had never been outside of California for a significant amount of time. It was scary and nerve wrecking to come to a place I have never been to or new much of, but thankfully with the support of the REU program directors and my family, the transition was not too bad. Visiting a new place with a different array of people showed me that I was able to seek something new and put myself in a position to live outside of my usual corner.

Q: What is one thing you’ve learned from doing research at a different university that you will bring back to Chapman?

A: I think that one thing I’ve learned about doing research at a different University that I can bring back to Chapman is a deeper understanding of the scientific process. I was aware of how difficult yet rewarding research is back at Chapman, but being here showed me how much time and energy goes into making an experimental protocol and successfully executing it. I’ve had to restart my experiment MANY times so far, and if I am being honest it has been frustrating. Yet, I am still eager to continue it and find what went wrong in the process. I am actually restarting it this week again, so hopefully all goes well.

Q: What has been your favorite part of this program thus far?

A: My favorite part of this program has been actively working in a lab. This is my first time being in a Microbiology sort of lab so I am just taking it all in. This is also my first time performing many of the techniques I’ve learned so far, so they have been difficult to execute at times. My cohort is also the best! They’ve made this experience very fun and its always a good time when we are all together.