Jacob Lacy, who will graduate from Cal State San Bernardino in May with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in biology, has a clear-cut goal in mind: become a biomedical engineering researcher to study a disease that has plagued him and about 750,000 other North Americans – ulcerative colitis.
Lacy didn’t begin with that goal. Initially, the Phelan resident started out as a math major with plans to ultimately become a high school math teacher.
“When I became a tutor (at CSUSB), and am still currently in University Hall for math and physics, my path changed slightly with wanting to open as many doors as possible,” said Lacy. “With tutoring being similar to teaching, I thought, ‘What else can I potentially do for a career?’ With math being my major at the time, physics was something closely related that I thought I would give a shot, and I fell in love with physical systems and how it’s related to math.”
He changed his major to physics after completing a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at CSUSB, which was designed to actively involve undergraduates in significant mathematical research – particularly from underrepresented groups or from institutions where research opportunities are limited – increase students’ mathematical independence and maturity, and encourage participants to pursue mathematical careers in both industry and academia, and to offer continued mentorship beyond the program.
It was around this time that Lacy began facing some serious health problems in being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
“It took a couple emergency room visits before I was on the right treatment, but once I was being treated, I became really interested in how medicine and biological processes work, which led to me taking biology classes and pursuing the biology minor,” Lacy said.
That interest has set Lacy on his ultimate objective.
“After I finish my bachelor’s degree I will be working on my Ph.D. for biomedical engineering (BME) at University of Vermont (UVM) with the goal of trying to be a leading researcher on my disease and professor in the BME field,” he said.
Lacy decided to pursue the BME field while at a summer REU program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he participated in biomedical engineering research. He credits Sara Callori, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at CSUSB, for helping him get into the REU program.
Callori, who has known Lacy through various courses, advising and research, said that the budding researcher is a strong student not only due to his innate intelligence, but his determination and hardworking attitude.
In a letter of recommendation to a Ph.D. program, Callori wrote that Lacy has done “an excellent job of developing both his academic strengths and extracurricular activities towards the aim of entering a graduate program (and eventually pursuing a career) in biomedical engineering.
“He has had a number of research experiences in both physics and biology that have given him a wide range of technical skills and knowledge, from working with instrumentation and electronics to bench-top biology lab work.”
Callori added that Lacy’s medical condition motivated him into the biomedical field and inspired him to hone his knowledge and skill set. Whenever he had to miss class from the ailment, he always communicated with her in a timely manner and never once asked for extensions of special consideration, though she added that he would be justified in doing so.
She said that Lacy is also receiving virtually no financial support for his education. Because of this, he has taken as many hours a math and physics tutor can get. Callori said there have been nights where his tutoring shift has run late and he slept at the library because of an early class the next morning.
“Jacob pushes himself incredibly hard and when I’ve talked with him about how things are going, he has made it clear that his hard work is in service of his goal of pursuing a Ph.D.,” Callori said.
Lacy said that along with Callori, biology associate professor Jeremy Dodsworth helped develop his skills and confidence as a researcher, and acknowledged David Reyes, the tutorial program coordinator in the Academic Centers for Excellence, for his help in the teaching aspect and in becoming a tutor.
He credited his family with deciding to come to college. “They have always seen the value of education,” he said. “My dad has always pushed me to achieve more, and I still stand by that.”
He said he chose CSUSB after his mother received a bachelor’s degree in political science, a teaching credential and a master’s degree in social science concentration in political economy. “Seeing her do well at this school gave me a reason to go here,” Lacy said. “She also took me to the campus a lot when growing up while working on her higher education here, and enjoyed the beautiful campus.”
Lacy would encourage high school students to come to CSUSB.
“If the degree you are interested in isn’t listed, don’t let that shy you away from attending here,” Lacy said. “I had no idea what biomedical engineering was and even though it’s not listed for CSUSB, I was still able to pursue a career in it.”
He added that the university, especially the astronomy and physics department, excels at offering various skills for the students.
“The physics department is really good at helping me as well as other students for giving them the skills for fields like biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, even though this is a school that doesn’t offer degrees for these careers,” Lacy said.
He said there were also more opportunities at CSUSB for undergraduates.
“Thinking of bigger institutions like UCR where there’s a lot more students in your class, it will be more competitive to get something like a research position,” he said. “At CSUSB, not only are there plenty of research opportunities on campus, but at other places such as Nebraska, New York, New Zealand and now Washington! All because of the professors here at CSUSB!”