Camila Gomez was already faced with one of the most challenging experiences of her life, starting her last year in college in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, her mother, Adriana Martinez, was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the rest of the family in their native Colombia, the Georgia State University student suddenly became the sole caretaker of her mother.
The experience was difficult and sometimes terrifying, but Gomez balanced a busy work and school schedule while caring for her mom. And now she is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“I was able to manage my mom’s doctor schedule, along with my work and my school work,” Gomez said. “I was also able to exceed in my academics. At first, I wasn’t sure of the outcome, but I was able to take the experience and grow as a person.”
Gomez, whose mother has completed her cancer treatments, will become one of a few members of her family to graduate from college. She wants to be an inspiration to her younger cousins and other relatives back in Colombia.
“I want to be an example for my family, that’s why I give it my all,” she said. “I want to instill in them that if they want to pursue higher education they can do it with dedication.”
Gomez also wants to be a role model to encourage more minority students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)-related professions.
“I feel like I have a voice and I want to advocate for minority groups and people of color that anything is possible,” she said. “There are scholarships and mentors available for us and the opportunity exists for all of us.”
Gomez fell in love with science at Georgia State and got especially interested in learning about parasites.
“With the STEM field, you can find an answer through your research,” Gomez said. “I love the fact that you’re able to study a topic and contribute to society overall.”
Most recently, Gomez has researched parasites called Crithidia fasciculata that infect mosquitoes.
“We’re studying an unknown protein in the cell,” Gomez said. “Through my research, I’m able to help my lab discover an unknown protein and learn more about its function.”
Gomez said the research could help future researchers understand how the protein can play a role in physiological processes in the cell.
After graduation, Gomez plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in public health or bioinformatics.
“I really hope to make a difference in the scientific community,” Gomez said. “Last year I didn’t expect my life to be what it is today. I feel I’ve accomplished so much despite my mom’s illness and the pandemic and I’m looking forward to the future.”