SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans make up less than 10-percent of the college graduates working in the fields of science and technology. This week’s Jefferson Award winner is working to change those numbers, and in the process is inspiring a new generation of scientists.

If science is about opening the door to the world around us, then San Francisco State University biology professor Leticia Márquez-Magaña wants to crack that door wide open.

“If you want an innovative solution to a scientific problem, you get that innovative solution with a diverse team,” Márquez-Magaña explained.

Professor Márquez-Magaña is passionate about increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering, beginning in her own classroom at San Francisco State.

“I walk into the classroom and I see myself reflected in the students,” she said.

She was the first in her family to go to college, and being the only Latina in grad school pursuing a PhD in biochemistry had its challenges. She remembered a gentleman in an elevator asking her if she was new to the department.

“‘What lab are you in?'” she recalled him asking. “‘The Chamberlain Lab,’ ‘Oh, I didn’t know they hired a new dishwasher.'”

She wants a different experience for her students, and being a role model in the classroom is a start.

“You don’t hardly see black women, Latina women in the sciences,” said student Amber Shigg. “So it’s nice to have someone ahead of me doing that and giving back and inspiring me to keep going in that direction.”

Before coming to San Francisco State, Márquez-Magaña earned her degrees at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley. Finding mentors she could relate to was difficult:

“I was lonely. It’s hard to be the one and only in some places. I always knew the social cohesion was important, and how I was going to survive?”

She did survive, creating minority science support groups at every school she attended. As a professor, she’s created summer internship opportunities for under represented students and is a faculty advisor. This professor, wife, and mother of two takes the job of mentoring seriously.

Graduate Angel Ku says Dr. Márquez-Magaña opened her lab to him and has mentored him in his research. This fall, he will pursue a PhD at UCSF in pharmaceutical sciences.

“She always pushes me, and I appreciate that,” Ku said.

So for her extraordinary leadership and efforts to change the face of science, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Leticia Márquez-Magaña.

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