Biochemistry Students Win Trip to Spain

Biochemistry Student Wins Prestigious Scholarships for Academic Excellence

In her years at Lehman, Biochemistry major Gabriela Rodriguez has become one of the college’s most accomplished students. The 22-year old senior recently spoke at a fundraising event for the La Unidad Latina Foundation, a group that awarded Rodriguez a scholarship last fall for her record of academic excellence and commitment to civic action in the Latino community.

“I want to express my sincere gratitude for awarding me La Unidad Latina Foundation Scholarship,” Rodriguez told the gathering on August 4. “In addition to school-related expenses, your generosity has contributed tremendously by lightening my financial burden and allowing me to stay focused on accomplishing my dreams of helping to improve the lives of others and being a role model for others the way you are for me.”

Rodriguez is also recipient of the MillerCoors Engineering and Sciences Scholarship that includes an all-expense paid trip to San Antonio this fall to attend a national leadership conference. The scholarship is awarded through the Adelante! U.S. Education Leadership Fund, which provides scholarships for high achieving Hispanic college students. It will certainly stand as one of the highlights of her academic career.

For Rodriguez, perhaps her most significant experience as a Lehman student came on a a trip to Spain last summer. She returned from this transformational experience with enhanced skills and expertise to utilize in the Lehman chemistry lab that she works in.

Rodriguez is part of an international research project that is focusing on the structural and chemical aspects of melting gels that limit gas permeability and impart protection to metal surfaces against corrosion. In the Lehman lab of Professor Andrei Jitianu, an associate professor of inorganic chemistry, Rodriguez is involved in the preparation of new melting gel and hybrid glass protective coatings. One goal of the research is to discover non-carcinogenetic coatings that can be used with metals, electronics, and for other industrial usage.

In July 2015, as part of this project, she traveled to the Instituto de Cerámica y Vidrio, (The Institute of Ceramics and Glass, ICV)  Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Higher Council for Scientific Research CSIC), in Madrid. The ICV conducts research in the field of science and technology of ceramic and glass materials. Rutgers University is also a partner with Lehman in the international project.

While in Spain, Rodriguez learned to prepare Cerium Oxide (CeO₂) thin films that when combined with melting gels, will create the next generation of self-healing anticorrosive protection barriers. As a native Spanish speaker who immigrated from the Dominican Republic when she was 16, Rodriguez was easily able to communicate and work with the host Spanish researchers. She also was trained to use a glovebox, a sealed container or enclosure that allows scientists and researchers to manipulate objects in a tightly controlled environment. The glovebox is designed to make it easier to manipulate both the pressure and stationary atmosphere. “This experience will help her and our laboratory at Lehman since we just purchased a glovebox and now she will be able to work with this without any further delay or training,” says Jitianu. “I think the trip to Spain broadened her perspective and gave her the opportunity to interact with recognized researchers in our field.”

In Spain, Rodriguez says she learned the finer points of metal polishing, thermal treatment of metals, and is looking forward to being able to synthesize cerium oxide using the lab’s new glovebox in the fall. “It was amazing being part of a research oriented facility” Rodriguez says about her experience in Spain.

And it wasn’t all work. The Lehman student, a self proclaimed “art fanatic,” was able to visit Museo Nacional del Prado, the premiere Spanish art museum and the Royal Palace of Madrid. She also visited family and friends now living in Northern Spain, some of whom she hadn’t seen for many years.

Rodriguez, who lives in Brooklyn, is a highly motivated, ambitious and active Lehman student who is planning to attend medical school when she graduates in 2017, and is even exploring the possibility of applying for a dual medical and doctoral program.

Multitasking isn’t a problem. A SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) student, she is president of that organization’s Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Society and is also president of the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students (MAPS). In addition, she is a SEEK tutor in chemistry and biology and has been a successful diver on the women’s swim team. For three summers she’s been part of program called the NorthEast Regional Alliance Medprep Program, (NERA) a program aimed at increasing student competitiveness for medical school. Off-campus she volunteers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine clinic in the South Bronx.

Even Jitianu wonders “how she has time to do it all.” Rodriguez attributes her success to strong time management and organization skills, but also credits Jitianu for his guidance. “Chemistry is his passion,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to work in his lab. He’s more than just a professor; he’s a mentor to me. I will always be grateful for his wisdom.”