Weber State University senior Zadoth Vazquez remembers exactly the moment a new vision of the world opened up for her. It was lab day at Weber High School, and she put a slide with red blood cells under the microscope.
“It was so amazing to see such small things that everyone has flowing through their veins look so big in a microscope,” Vazquez said.
“I felt at that moment that this is something that I would want to do, to see and explore other things within the human body.”
Born and raised in Ogden, Vazquez often drove on Harrison Boulevard past Weber State, and every time her parents would emphasize that’s where she belonged. As immigrants of Chihuahua, Mexico, they wanted their daughter to have opportunities they never enjoyed.
Weber State was not only conveniently located, but with her interest in science, Vazquez was selected as an Undergraduate Research Fellow right out of high school. Beginning as a freshman, she has worked four years with mentor Matthew Nicholaou, chair of the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences. First he had her read many scientific papers to understand the language and purpose of research. By her sophomore year, she joined a team of students and faculty studying the lungs of mice. Their research eventually determined that vaping was doing more damage than cigarettes.
“From the moment Zadoth walked into my office she displayed the primary traits that make an undergraduate researcher successful: enthusiasm and curiosity,” Nicholaou said. “Zadoth has continued to impress me year after year, growing with each new challenge and project she takes on. She has not shied away from any new challenge or project and has displayed an incredible amount of will and determination in completing her research to the highest degree. Zadoth has truly set a high bar for her undergraduate research peers.”
While Zadoth loved the lab, science and math required discipline and determination. She entered the university in developmental math and had to work her way from below-college ready through to the most advanced courses, getting As along the way.
“Coming here was a very scary thing because I am a first-generation college student, and I'm also the first in my family to pursue any kind of STEM career,” she said. “But, I think medical laboratory sciences and the undergraduate research program have equipped me with all the resources that I need for whatever comes in the future.”
After graduation next year, she plans a gap year working in a hospital lab before heading to graduate school or entering a physician's assistant program. She’s looking at programs in the U.S. and Germany. Her fascination with Germany was enhanced by taking several German language courses. Her interest in travel has also been piqued working on Alternative Breaks in WSU’s Center for Community Engaged Learning. After three years on the committee, she’s now Alternative Breaks director, helping plan service trips around Utah and the world.
“It's amazing to work alongside communities outside of our own in different states or countries to focus on different social issues to see how they are handled and how different communities serve those around them,” Vazquez said. “That's something that I have been so passionate for, and it just has opened my heart for community engagement.”
At the university, Vazquez has also strengthened ties to her own culture and community by serving on the LatinX graduation committee and participating with Ballet Folklorico, where students perform dances native to various regions and countries of the world. She said balancing research, homework, volunteer work has helped her with time management, communication and leadership skills.
“I've found a passion in all sorts of areas; it's a wide variety,” she said. “I was really trying out what I loved. These experiences have enhanced my time here at Weber State. I'm just forever grateful for staff, faculty, mentors, who push you to achieve greatness.”