By Margaret McKinney
New Mexico Highlands University graduate student Sebastian Medina was accepted into the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
The 24-year-old native of rural Mora is a first-generation college student who completes his master’s in natural sciences in May, with an emphasis on environmental sciences and management.
Medina earned a 4.0 GPA in graduate school. He was also part of a Highlands research team examining the impacts of climate change on water quality in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico.
“When I learned I was accepted into this prestigious Ph.D. program, I was ecstatic,” Medina said. “In my doctoral studies, I want to focus on understanding the effects of chemicals in our environment and how they relate to development, progression and treatment of disease in humans and wildlife.”
Medina was a freshman biology student at Highlands when he first started working in natural resource management professor Edward Martínez’ Water Chemistry Laboratory. Martínez was Medina’s adviser throughout his time at Highlands, and supervised his Valles Caldera research.
“I’ve had so many research opportunities and experiences with Dr. Martínez in the lab and the field that I never dreamed were possible. These experiences are largely what fueled my passion and desire to pursue higher education. My goal is to eventually work in academia as a professor and researcher,” Medina said.
Medina also worked with biology professor Sarah Corey-Rivas in her Molecular Biology Laboratory. She co-chaired Medina’s thesis committee.
For his thesis, Medina investigated the effects of sediment copper pollution in Peterson Reservoir by studying deformities in midge larvae. The reservoir is one of the municipal water sources for Las Vegas.
He used a natural population of midge larvae in Morphy Lake for comparison.
“Larvae tell us about the health of the ecosystem they live in and are bioindicators of aquatic health due to the extended time they spend as larvae in their aquatic phase,” Medina said. “I’m still processing samples and we expect to find higher rates of mouthpart deformities in these Peterson Reservoir aquatic larvae.”
Medina will share the findings of his study with city of Las Vegas water managers.
“Sebastian is an extremely bright, strong critical thinker and conscientious hard worker who always wants to learn more,” Martínez said. “Participating in research allowed Sebastian to develop and ask more thoughtful, detailed scientific questions.”
Along the way, he learned how to design a successful study to answer the questions.
“I believe Sebastian will do very well in his doctoral program and will impress his advisers. He has tremendous potential to contribute both as a scientist and a professor who mentors and inspires his students. He has natural ability as a teacher and trained many students in my lab and the field,” Martínez said.
Experienced at presenting his own research, Martínez said that Medina also taught other students how to prepare their research presentations.
In 2011, Medina was tapped for a $40,000 excellence scholarship awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue his education.
In 2012, he was named Student of the Year at Highlands. The same year, he earned his B.S. in biology, graduating magna cum laude, and was honored as the Outstanding Biology Student.
Medina is dedicated to student learning and worked as a supplemental instruction leader in the university’s Achieving in Research Math and Science program, leading study sessions and mentoring students struggling with science and math courses.
“At ARMAS, it was very rewarding to help students build their confidence and belief in their own abilities. Watching them succeed was satisfying,” Medina said.
Outside the classroom, Medina distinguished himself as a student leader, playing a key role in establishing the student Conservation Club in 2011 and serving as the first president for the fast-growing club.
Reflecting on his Highlands experience, Medina said he is grateful.
“I’m very fortunate for the experiences and exceptional advisement and mentoring I received throughout my academic career at Highlands,” Medina said. “The support and guidance I received from my adviser and professors have been instrumental in my academic journey. I’m extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from such knowledgeable and passionate professors.”