“These fellowships have … given me the financial peace of mind I needed, which allows me to focus solely on my research and outreach experiences,” says UCI doctoral student Stacy Ann Suarez Cham. Steve Zylius / UCI

As a high school senior in Yuma, Arizona, Stacy Ann Suarez Cham dreamed of attending a University of California school. But out-of-state tuition was too high, so she instead went to the University of Arizona, where she became fascinated by the “invisible world of bacteria” and its impact. In 2017, Suarez earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, with a minor in biochemistry.

Upon graduating, the first-generation student was “ecstatic” to learn that financial support was available for graduate study, regardless of where the school was located. So she applied to UC campuses with microbiology laboratories and doctoral programs that interested her.

Suarez chose UCI for its Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and prime Southern California location. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of the UC system due to its meritorious academics and cutting-edge research,” she says. “UCI has outstanding faculty conducting intriguing microbiology work, and there’s a great sense of community among EEB members.”

Additionally, Suarez adds: “I value staying close to my family and being able to visit home with a relatively quick car drive. Being from Arizona, California is paradise to me. The weather is practically perfect, and I love that there are several beaches close to Irvine.”

A UCI School of Biological Sciences Graduate Fellowship – for students with notable academic achievements who show significant promise as researchers – has provided her an annual stipend of $32,000 for the past two years. And a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship will provide Suarez an annual stipend of $34,000 and $12,000 for tuition and fees for the next three years. She expects to receive her Ph.D. in 2022.

“These fellowships have a tremendously positive impact on my life,” Suarez says. “They’ve given me the financial peace of mind I needed, which allows me to focus solely on my research and outreach experiences. They’ve also opened the door to numerous opportunities that I didn’t know existed.”

On campus, she’s a student in the laboratory of Adam Martiny, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and Earth system science, where she investigates the evolution of antibiotic resistance in E. coli.

“I hope to conduct meaningful research on antibiotic resistance and publish high-impact manuscripts,” Suarez says. “And I will continue to encourage students in K-12 schools and community colleges to consider a future in STEM.”

She’s not entirely sure whether, ultimately, she’d prefer working in academia or in industry.

“If I go into academia, I would seek a postdoctoral position at a top university and then apply to be a tenure-track microbiology professor,” Suarez says. “If I choose industry, I may pursue an industry postdoc spot and then apply for consulting or federal jobs, such as with the Centers for Disease Control or the Food & Drug Administration.”

Martiny says that Suarez shows great promise as a scientist and a mentor.

“I expect that Stacy will have a strong, positive impact on many people’s lives,” he says. “Not only is her research on microbial antibiotic resistance important for our health, but she’s also deeply engaged in mentoring underrepresented students at UCI.”