Cal State San Bernardino biology students Anthony Castro and Breanna Ramirez were recognized with the 2022 Richard Fehn Memorial Scholarship for their outstanding research as undergraduate students.

“I am always proud of our students, especially seeing them recognized for their extraordinary work in our labs, and working with their outstanding faculty mentors,” said Sastry Pantula, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.

“Both Anthony and Breanna have done excellent research in the spirit of our beloved Richard Fehn. I am sure they will continue to demonstrate scientific excellence and leadership in the years to come,” he added.

The scholarship was created to help meet the cost of education for CSUSB biology students who have demonstrated a commitment to biological research and to pay tribute to Fehn and his work.

Fehn, who passed away in 2007, was said to be a caring and dedicated instructor known for his passion for teaching and his commitment to student research. He mentored at least 87 undergraduate and graduate students and he continued to mentor those graduates as they pursued their research, published their work and moved into fellowship positions in their fields.

Growing up, both Castro and Ramirez were always interested in science. Castro was initially intrigued by medicine because his mother would housekeep for a pediatric office, allowing him the opportunity to explore the office’s books and articles.

“Since then, I have been fascinated by medicine and the many avenues that lead to the same goal: community health,” said Castro.

Following his interest in medicine, Castro enjoyed the biotechnology practicum course. This interest led him to biology Professor Laura Newcomb’s virology course. Throughout the course, Castro found success academically, which earned his Fehn award nomination from Newcomb.

“I enthusiastically nominate Anthony Castro for the Biology Department Fehn Undergraduate Student Research Award,” said Newcomb.

Anthony missed one answer on one quiz, out of 14 quizzes, proving clear comprehension,” added Newcomb.

In addition to enjoying himself in the course and succeeding in it academically, Castro was offered a chance to assist in an ongoing coronavirus research project. The project’s focus was to identify potential antiviral targets to prevent potential emerging coronaviruses. The experience helped Castro work in a collaborative effort, learn more about viral prevention and earn his first publication as a scientist.

“On March 9, 2022, we became contributing published scientists. It has been one of the proudest moments for my parents and me,” explained Castro.

Throughout his journey in science, Castro attributes his success to early research opportunities.

“These research experiences have been essential to my early success as a young scientist. I am beyond grateful for the mentorship and motivation I received from my professors,” shared Castro.

He is currently in a California Institute of Regenerative Medicine-funded research internship in the Zhao Lab at UC Irvine.

When Breanna Ramirez first came to CSUSB, she envisioned being a wildlife veterinarian. However, after conducting a couple of alligator-related studies during her pursuit of an undergraduate, Ramirez was introduced to new career possibilities.

“My undergraduate experience was transformative because it gave me a chance to try and consider research as a career,” said Ramirez. “Research was the missing piece for what I wanted for myself and my education.”

After joining Associate Professor Tomasz Owerkowicz’s research lab, Ramirez quickly rose through the ranks and soon had her own research project while still an undergrad.

 As an undergrad, Ramirez completed two studies. Her first study centered around alligators’ bone integrity and was completed during the 2020 lockdown.

Her second study focused on alligators’ brain temperature, which earned her a spot at several conferences.

“I had the opportunity to share my research results at conferences, both local, regional and national/international,” shared Ramirez.

In addition to her gaining research experience and more knowledge about living organisms, particularly alligators, Ramirez learned tremendous career skills.

“I acquired technical skills. This project also taught me critical thinking skills and experimental troubleshooting,” said Ramirez. “I learned how to read primary literature critically, as well as how to broaden my perspective by analyzing relevant papers.”

When discussing the nomination for Ramirez, Owerkowicz said, “I hope you will join me and recognize Breanna’s undergraduate research accomplishments and her indomitable spirit with the Fehn Scholarship. … She deserves this recognition and encouragement to carry on in her academic endeavors.”

Ramirez is enrolled in the master’s program at CSUSB to finish her research project on alligator thermoregulation. After getting her doctorate, and doing one or two postdoctoral research projects, Ramirez aims for an academic career in wildlife and conservation biology.