Neuroscientist. Dancer. First-generation college student. Future physician. Suzette Guzman ’18 exemplifies Scripps College excellence—she’s curious, she’s confident, and she’s passionate about making the world a better place.
But Suzette’s path to Scripps wasn’t always certain. Growing up in a low-income immigrant community in Phoenix, “My family struggled to pay the monthly rent and for other necessities,” she explains. “The cost of college was a huge roadblock to achieving my dream of becoming an OB/GYN and helping underserved communities access and receive quality healthcare.”
During her senior year of high school, Suzette’s college guidance counselor steered her toward Scripps, lauding its close-knit, supportive community and interdisciplinary approach to academics. Suzette was pretty sure she wanted to pursue a career as a medical doctor, but she was also interested in studying dance—a passion of hers since she was a little girl. “One of my most important pillars of support has been dance,” says Suzette. “I have always found renewed strength and succor in dance, and the arts provide me an additional vehicle to help others.” A campus visit persuaded Suzette that Scripps was the place for her, and she applied early decision upon her return home.
When she was accepted, scholarships and research opportunities not only made it possible for Suzette to enroll at Scripps, but also to thrive here as a biology major and dance minor. Upon her arrival, Suzette became a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholar and received the Mary Margaret Murphy Elliott Scholarship, to name a few. During her sophomore year, she was awarded the Ellen Clark Revelle ’51 Scholarship, or “The Nellie,” for her academic achievements and engagement with the Scripps community. Suzette has been active with the Claremont Colleges Ballet Company and is a lead sponsor with Chicano/Latino Student Affairs, a program that helps Latinx students transition into college. She also serves as a class note-taker, enhancing the experience for students with disabilities.
In her junior year, Suzette applied to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, which aims to ensure that a diverse and highly trained workforce is prepared to assume leadership roles in science. Scripps staff and faculty collaborate with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has provided annual grant funding for Scripps programs. This past January, she was appointed to a research fellow position at the University of California, San Francisco. Prepared to take on this challenge, Suzette utilized the skills and experiences from former internships and research opportunities with Keck faculty. As member of Dr. Loren Frank’s laboratory, Suzette studied the regions of the brain that are thought to be involved in assigning rewards to specific experiences.
During the study, Suzette and her team utilized a tool called optogenetics, which is a method of controlling neurons in the brain using light. She implanted fibers in the brains of rats, connecting them to lasers for shining light in the brain. Suzette taught them to run a maze, and they were rewarded with a treat when successfully completing the maze. She was interested in finding whether two regions of the brain communicate with each other during spatial learning and navigation. To test this hypothesis, Suzette used optogenetics to theoretically disrupt this communication. Suzette activated the lasers while the rats navigated a familiar maze. Would the rats continue to perform well on the familiar maze, or would they have difficulty navigating it? As Suzette and the team work to finalize the results, Suzette is using this research as the basis of her senior thesis. She and the Frank Lab hope this research will provide more information regarding the neural circuits that regulate learning, memory, and decision making.
With her graduation day just a few months away, Suzette feels incredibly happy she chose Scripps. Currently, Suzette is applying to numerous MD programs across the country. It’s been amazing to look back to when she was a senior in high school and the prospect of attending college seemed improbable. But, “Overcoming adversity is like performing surgery without a scalpel,” she says. “It may seem impossible until you consider the other tools at your disposal.” For Suzette, those tools have been the support of her peers, the mentorship of her professors, and the encouragement of alumnae, parents, and donors whose gifts have made change in her life.
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Hear more on Suzette’s journey in her video.