Life Experiences Steer First-Gen Scholar Toward a Future in Microbiology Research

July 18, 2020


JC Aguirre

By the time he graduated from high school as valedictorian of his class last spring, JC Aguirre had become an expert at overcoming obstacles and seizing opportunities.

Born with multiple birth defects, he underwent numerous surgeries during his childhood and now relies solely on public transportation to get around. But when asked about medical procedures or riding a public bus, he has no complaints. Instead, he details how his life has been enriched by his circumstances.

“Most of my early years were spent in and out of doctors’ offices, hospitals, etcetera,” he said. “These experiences exposed me to a significant amount of medical terminology, as well as basic procedures that medical professionals do routinely. I also learned to wait and wait and wait — that taught me patience.”

As a result of his ongoing exposure to the medical professions, Aguirre is planning a career as a research microbiologist. His goal is to contribute to humanity’s understanding of the relationship between viruses and bacteria, particularly viruses called phages that destroy bacteria and could be the key to solving the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

His first step toward achieving his goal is to enter Stanislaus State as a freshman this fall. The Atwater resident is one of six students to receive the first President’s Central Valley First-Generation Scholarships from the University.

At $12,500 each year for four years, Aguirre’s scholarship will cover tuition, fees and other expenses at Stan State. In addition, he will receive a new laptop computer and ongoing support from dedicated professional and career mentors.

Aguirre says he is “deeply honored” to receive the scholarship, which he calls “a clear example of the generosity of my community and the kindness of the people in it.” It ensures that he will have a good education, plentiful employment opportunities and the ability to support himself while helping his family.

“As my mother puts it, it means that I won’t be on her couch when I’m forty,” he jokes. “But seriously, I look forward to a time when I can support my mother the way she has always supported me.”

Aguirre looks forward to attending Stan State, which appeals to him because it has a well-regarded biological sciences department, state-of-the-art facilities and a diverse student and faculty population. The value of diversity, he says, is something he learned about while using public transportation.

“Being on buses, trains and other public transportation gave me valuable insight. I was able to talk with many different people from all walks of life and had many wonderful conversations,” he said. “This expanded my worldview and taught me that enrichment comes from diversity.”

Years from now, when he is a research microbiologist, he fully intends to repay the community that has shown him kindness, perhaps by bringing phage research to the Central Valley to improve health care or create jobs.

“This scholarship provides me a means to not only explore my passions, but also to expand my horizons so that I can give back, in turn, to the people who have served me,” he said.