06/14/2013 12:28:05

Scholarships Help Caltech Undergraduate Make a Difference

Mario Zubia Awarded for Research and Leadership Accomplishments

Like most Techers, Mario Zubia had his pick of the nation's top schools when he was applying to college. He was a gifted high school student, excelling in math and science. Deeply affected by his grandmother's battle with Alzheimer's (she was diagnosed with the disease when Zubia was in middle school), he became passionate about pursuing biology as a major, hoping to aid in the discovery of a cure. In other words, Zubia was the ideal Caltech applicant.

As a high school senior, Zubia applied to six schools, but only Caltech offered a financial aid package that covered his entire tuition—this at a time when many of his friends and family were struggling to complete their own educations, getting no financial aid at all. Zubia says he chose Caltech because of its excellent reputation and academic rigor, though affordability was also a major factor. And Caltech's investment in Zubia has proven worthwhile: not only has he zealously pursued his undergraduate studies, but he has also helped tackle one of the world's biggest scientific challenges.

Zubia, now a senior at Caltech, works in the Patterson Lab for neurobiology, which focuses on interactions between the nervous and immune systems in order to discover the root causes of neurological conditions such as autism, Huntington's disease, and schizophrenia. Zubia himself is involved in the lab's Huntington's research, isolating a protein involved in the pathology of the disease and trying to figure out what happens when it is eliminated. "I like being able to say that my research actually matters," Zubia says. "It has direct effects, as opposed to finding a protein that does something that kind of helps other proteins and won't be useful for several years. Probably anywhere else, I wouldn't have this opportunity as an undergraduate."

Throughout his four years at Caltech, Zubia has been a recipient of crucial funds that ensure undergraduates have the financial support and resources they need to flourish academically and contribute to the Institute. The financial assistance he was offered as part of his acceptance to Caltech included a Carnation Merit Scholarship, drawn from a fund established in 1974 for Caltech by the Elbridge and Mary Stuart Foundation. In 2013, Zubia received the annual Robert L. Noland Leadership Award, founded in 1978 by the electronics manufacturing company Ametek in honor of its president, Robert L. Noland (BS '41). This award is given to undergraduates who exhibit special leadership qualities, whether motivating others to live up to their potential or contributing excellent behind-the-scenes work in campus activities.

Scholarships and awards like the Carnation fund and Noland prize not only allow Caltech to attract and retain the best, brightest, and most motivated students, regardless of economic status, but also significantly impact the research that is central to Caltech's mission. Given the chance to pursue their passions and do research in areas they care about, Caltech's undergraduates aren't waiting until after commencement to start changing the world.

Zubia looks forward to attending the University of California, San Francisco, this fall, where he will pursue a PhD in biomedical science, continuing to focus his research on neurodegeneration. "The research opportunities and experience I had at Caltech helped me excel," reflects Zubia, "and none of this would have been possible without the support I've been so graciously provided."

Written by Elizabeth Hamilton