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Department of Biology

Alumni Feature

Alumna started career path as a molecular biologist with support of Fresno State mentor

Michelle StephensonMichelle Stephenson credits the Biology Department at Fresno State for supporting her and helping her explore her career path.

“I expressed my interests and career dreams to my advisor, Dr. Calderón-Urrea, who then paired me with a graduate student so I could see if that was something I wanted to pursue,” she said. “The faculty are wonderful and will help you in any way they can. Your success is their success!”

Michelle actually started at Fresno State with a major in criminology and a minor in biology.

“My original career aspirations were to work in a crime lab, doing DNA work, but I quickly found that science/biology needed to be my major, and I switched after my first semester,” she said.
Now the lab manager for the Research Department at Illumina, Michelle leads a team that manages spaces for research sites across the globe. [add link]

But she said she may never have found that career path without the support of her mentor at Fresno State.

“Dr. Calderón-Urrea was my professor, advisor, and mentor,” she said. “I worked in his research lab as an undergraduate, helping his graduate students with their research.”

After she graduated, Dr. Calderón-Urrea nominated her for the Science, Technology and Research Scholars (STARS) Program at Yale, where she was submerged into a summer research program. With this experience, she moved into a full-time position at a biotech company in San Diego, where she started her career path in the lab as a molecular biologist.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Calderón-Urrea, I am not sure if my path would have led me to the research world or into the position I currently hold,” she said.

Although more than one factor helped her down the career path she took, Michelle thinks Fresno State may have been the most influential.
“There are so many things that I attribute to my success, but I definitely think a lot of it had to do with the atmosphere I was presented with at Fresno State,” she said.

Michelle recalls two lab classes that she never thought in a million years she would take — immunology and ecology.

“We students were all able to find our likes and dislikes,” she said. “I’m glad I had the experience and perspectives of those two classes to really drive me into the field I went into.”
The curriculum exposed her to many different aspects of the field, she said.

“The teachers made us collaborate with other students, and it really was a starting point to how you would organize yourself and your life to be successful,” she said. “They not only taught me skills in the scientific field, but they also presented us with so many different things to make us well-rounded and to learn in so many different ways.”

Now, looking back, she believes she found what she wanted to pursue through her experiences at Fresno State and the support she received from a mentor who cared.