Joshua Flores | Bioresource Research | McMinnville, OR | Sophomore

STEM Leader Program

First generation college student

A Whole Body Approach

I chose my major on the basis of it being different and unique. Ever since I was young, being unique was what I strived for. When others would negatively talk about school, I would contradict their thoughts. When some hated the broccoli served at lunch, I would add more to my plate. Although not everything I did as a child was against the societal norm of kids, a lot of it was. So when presented with a major in the sciences that most don’t follow, I was all for it.

I hope my studies and future research in bioenergy will help cut the use of fossil fuels out of the world's diet. To demonstrate how I view this, if we were to compare the structure of the ecosystem to that of a human body, we could conclude that the system would run best when it was nourished by foods higher in nutrients than calories; the result being a healthier, more holistic organism. Take, for example, a human who consumes a diet of processed foods will find their caloric intake high, while their body is falling short on protein and nutrient intake. For the Earth to maintain proper functionality, it needs proper maintenance. I see a world that is full of life, energy, and vigor; this dream is only achievable through feeding our shared planet what it needs, not what is easiest. I want to find what will feed the planet the whole scope of what it needs with no junk.

Notes from the Lab

During my freshman year I applied to the STEM Leaders program and was accepted. This program allowed me to seek internship opportunities in a lab under a mentor. I wound up in a lab working with CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) and PCR ("polymerase chain reaction") technology that sought to enlist a gene into poplar trees that would disrupt their reproductive capabilities. My job within the lab was to extract DNA samples, run them through a PCR machine, and analyze whether or not the gene form reproduction was taken on by the tree.

It being my first time in a lab, I learned a lot through mistakes and my mentor. To his credit, my mistakes were more learning experiences than mistakes I should have felt failure in. Due to this, I say the most valuable part of my stay in the lab was the connection I made with my mentor. This allowed me to ask as many questions as I could without feeling like a pest that would not leave his side. He made sure to foster my curiosity with answers that not only satisfied my requests but went further and challenged my thinking. Many aspects of the job could have easily been more valuable, such as learning how to run a PCR machine, or being able to analyze gel matrices. Yet what stuck with me the most was having a connection with a mentor that was supportive and fostered creative questions. Thinking was the best way to get an experience that fully encompassed what it meant to work in a research laboratory.

The most fun I had associated with the lab was telling everyone about the work I was doing. I was eager to share with anyone and everyone what felt to me to be the pinnacle of cool: my trials and tribulations in a research lab at OSU. I would go on for too long sometimes and share more than what was socially required for a get-together with a friend. Telling friends and family what I was doing made me feel empowered, brave, and strangely like I was 35 with a masters degree and doing my own research.

What may be my future started my freshman year in a lab at OSU. I am forever grateful for the STEM Leaders program for helping me gain such an experience.

Making the Connection

My biggest joy comes from the connection between humans and the natural planet. From that stems many of my hobbies and talents. Cooking is one of my biggest. With it goes gardening. Taking natural ingredients from the outside and into the kitchen to turn them into creative culinary concoctions brings forth a sense of joy in my soul. From fungi to plants, if I like to eat it, I want to grow it. I also love to read books ranging in topic from culinary culture to global agricultural systems. One of my favorites on the latter is called The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I highly recommend it.

In addition to the natural world, another passion of mine is tennis. I have been playing for five years now and have loved it. One of my favorite tricks is to bounce the ball high up and “catch” it on my racket without it bouncing, in a smooth and swift motion. Tennis has also been where I have meet some of the coolest, most chill people. Tennis can be competitive and structured, fun and social, or sporadic and funky. There are many faces to tennis, which is one of the many reasons why I love the sport.

Lastly, I like my music. Jazz, neosoul, funk, techno jazz, R&B, you name it. I have a song to fit every mood. Listening to “It’s Changed” by Dr. Lonnie Smith while cooking is sublime. Listening to “Molasses” by Hiatus Kaiyote while driving back from a day of exploration on a hike is perfection. Listening to each standalone track of a complicated song is fun like nobody’s business; songs are more complicated than you think and you can appreciate songs even more so when listening for that funky bass line you often overlook.

Use Your Resources

Thinking back on my past I often feel surprised at how much change has come into my life in the few months that were my freshman year of college. I learned how to fend for myself, accept myself, and come out of my shell to allow for my thoughts and interests to create an image to others that I am interesting and unique in the best way possible. 

One lesson I hope to teach incoming freshmen is to learn how to utilize on campus resources early in the year. From the writing center to the career development center, the staff is not only qualified, but are more than happy to help. This took me till the end of winter term to figure out, and a world of opportunity opened up to me when I started utilizing the resources. To succeed you will need help, and to get help you will need to seek it out. 

Secondly, I would like to point out that everyone is at a different spot in their self-acceptance journey. That is okay, it may take until 40 for some, or it could take till the end of college. However long it takes, be kind to yourself and allow yourself the proper time to make sure you feel comfortable in your own skin. 

Lastly, do not be afraid to be unique and different. Differences are not inherently bad; you learn from the differences you have with others. Similarly, others learn from the differences they have with you. Take the time to showcase and investigate your unique interests and allow for time to be allocated to creative outlets. There are communities for everything from cooking to pottery. Ask questions, learn, build, and grow your creative outlets to grow your singularity.