Graduate nursing student Alura Williams and undergraduate biology student Manuel Madrigal have been selected as the 2022-23 College of Natural Sciences Outstanding Students. They were honored at Cal State San Bernardino’s Commencement ceremony on May 20, at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.

Williams, who became a two-time alumna -- she graduated from CSUSB in 2020 with her bachelor’s in nursing -- graduated this spring with her master’s in nursing with an advanced community/public health nursing concentration. It was through her own health battle and surgeries as a teenager that she found her passion for nursing.

“That time of my life introduced me to the nursing profession and allowed me to witness first-hand the patient experience,” she said. “I met wonderful nurses that supported, encouraged and inspired me. The nurses that cared for me showed me the value of being a nurse and the impact I could have on other people.”

Williams became certified in the state of California to be a nursing assistant and began working in a local hospital.

“Being on the other side of the hospital bed was a transformative experience for me and helped solidify my decision to be a nursing major,” she said, who after receiving her bachelor’s and license, was offered a position in a local intensive care unit through the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The work that I did as an ICU nurse was the reason I decided to pursue the advanced community/public health nursing concentration of the graduate program,” she said. “I found my passion in supporting patients in community environments to understand how to care for their health, and the health of their loved ones, and to have access to the abundant resources available to help them.”

While she has had many academic and leadership accomplishments, she is most proud of the time she presented her research poster at the two-day Sigma So Cal Odyssey Nursing Research Conference in San Diego. Her poster was awarded third place in the innovative projects category.

“Representing the Rho Beta chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, CSUSB and the College of Natural Sciences at this conference was an experience I treasure,” she said. “This accomplishment stands out to me among others because it was the first opportunity I had to attend an in-person professional conference, present a poster for the work I had done in the previous semester, network with other nursing professionals from the region, and receive recognition for my work.”

Williams has been offered admission into two Ph.D. programs with full funding. Those interviews also gave her a unique opportunity to discuss her future plans with elite researchers in the field, she said.

“I plan to pursue nursing research in my future career and a doctorate degree,” she said. “First, I intend to gain more community nursing experience with a variety of different populations so that I can determine my area of interest and focus that allows me to be impactful in the profession and my work.”

Throughout her academic journey, Williams says her parents have been her greatest inspiration.

“They both shared their stories and challenges of being minorities in the workforce without degrees,” she said. “I have witnessed both become profoundly successful despite their many roadblocks. They have been the best role models and parents.”

She also credits several CSUSB nursing faculty members for being mentors, including Cindy Fike, Cheryl Brandt, Dawn Blue, Pinthusorn Pattayakorn, Younglee Kim and Anne Lama.

“These five incredible women saw my passion and potential and encouraged me to always strive for excellence in nursing,” she said. “Whether that was through encouragement for graduate studies, recommending me for employment, challenging me to think broadly, supporting me through leadership roles, guiding me through research, and broadening my experiences in unique nursing roles, they all were vital in cultivating the nurse I am today.”

Madrigal initially chose to major in biology because it would help him get into medical school. However, through his research activities at CSUSB, some of it done in CSUSB associate professor Tomasz Owerkowicz’ lab, he found that he has a passion for research and now plans to become a physician-scientist, specifically a cardiologist, while conducting research in cardiovascular physiology.

“Since joining Dr. Owerkowicz’s lab, I have had the opportunity to be involved in two research projects that focused on the pulmonary bypass shunt, a means of diverting blood away from lungs (a topic in comparative cardiovascular physiology),” he explained. “I participated in the Undergraduate Summer Research Program during the summer of 2022 and have also taken two independent research courses where I have learned valuable surgical and anesthetic skills, critical thinking, writing and presentation skills.”

Madrigal also had the opportunity to present his research findings at several local, regional and national conferences. The accomplishment that he is most proud of is presenting his research findings at the American Physiological meeting in Long Beach in October 2022 in an oral session.

“I was the only undergraduate student, along with master’s students and Ph.D. candidates,” he said.

He credits the biology department and its faculty members for helping him along his academic journey, and not only credits Owerkowicz, but also biology faculty members Stuart Sumida and Jeremy Dodsworth for their guidance.

“The biology department at CSUSB has amazing faculty members that are interested in wanting students to succeed,” he said. “Dr. Sumida and Dr. Dodsworth have not only helped me in class, but have also been a part of my journey to helping me reach my future academic endeavors. The person who I owe a huge thank you is Dr. Owerkowicz, for not only believing in me but also with helping me to become an independent researcher.

“At CSUSB, I learned that I should pursue a career in which I am most passionate about,” he said. “I learned this through having a mentor (Dr. Owerkowicz), who is really passionate about research, and my professor (Dr. Sumida) who is really passionate – probably the most passionate person – about teaching the foregut, midgut and hindgut.”

Madrigal also credits his hardworking parents for his inspiration.

“I learned the definition of hard work through my parents,” he said, “from the long hour shifts they have pulled to keep food on the table, a roof under my head, and financially supported me in my education.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Madrigal plans on staying for CSUSB’s master’s program under the mentorship of Owerkowicz to continue research in comparative cardiovascular physiology.