Crystal Mendoza ’23 stands in front of Hoben Hall during her first Michigan snowfall in fall 2019.
Crystal Mendoza ’23 took a solo trip to Vienna, Austria, during her summer 2022 research internship at Karslruhe Institute for Technology in Germany.
Crystal Mendoza ’23 (left) builds polypeptide bonds to see the bond structure with Julia Ghazal ’22 in a biochemistry class during fall term 2021.
For the second year in a row, a Kalamazoo College chemistry student has been awarded the prestigious Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship.
Crystal Mendoza ’23 is the 2022 recipient of the scholarship through the American Chemical Society. The scholarship provides a minimum of $1,500 funding toward tuition, books and lab fees for a female undergraduate student majoring in chemistry or a related discipline and beginning her junior or senior year.
Mendoza and the 2021 recipient of the scholarship, Ola Bartolik ’22, have both worked in the lab of Blakely Tresca, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
When Mendoza received the scholarship announcement, her reaction was, “Wow, oh my goodness, I actually got it,” she said, “because I really didn’t think I would get it. It was a little bit later than when they announced it the previous year, and in the back of my mind, I didn’t think they would give it back-to-back to someone from the same college.”
Once the news sank in, she called her mom to celebrate and sent Tresca a message.
“I was really surprised two students from the same school got the scholarship back-to-back, especially since they only award one each year,” Tresca said. “I’m not surprised, though, that Crystal earned it. She has worked really hard in research and at school, while at the same time doing so much for the department and the community at K helping mentor the next generation of chemists.”
The scholarship has both practical and intangible benefits for Mendoza. Not only does it cover Mendoza’s out-of-pocket costs for tuition, books and fees for her last year at K, it also provides a feeling of belonging.
“It was rewarding that the Women Chemists Committee posted the announcement on Twitter, Facebook, all their socials,” Mendoza said. “Seeing my face and the significance of the scholarship and what it means to the community of women chemists made me feel like I’m actually a part of this community. I feel like I can continue in the field of chemistry with support and inclusion.”
Crystal Mendoza ’23 (right) and Isabel Morillo ’23 attending a K softball game to support their roommate Lucy Hart ’23.
Crystal Mendoza ’23, pictured on a trip to Cologne, Germany, is currently working on a research internship at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Finding her community and niche has been a journey for Mendoza. Arriving on campus in fall 2019, she intended to declare a biology major and follow the pre-med track. Her first term, however, she found herself not taking any biology courses and struggling through Chemistry 110. Her STEM journey could have ended there had it not been for Jeff Bartz, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Bartz invited Mendoza to come to his office hours and introduced her to Alex Cruz ’21, a chemistry major and fellow Los Angeles native. Cruz agreed to tutor Mendoza—the start of a mentoring relationship that continues to this day.
Chemistry student Crystal Mendoza ’23 snaps a selfie in the elevator at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany, where she is completing a summer research internship. Mendoza was on her way to buy propionic acid from the stockroom.
Chemistry student Crystal Mendoza ’23 has been awarded the prestigious Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship.
“She wanted to succeed,” Bartz said. “She was willing to ask for help and that’s sometimes the hardest thing for all of us to do, especially as a beginning college student among your peers where you want to look like you have it all together. I had enough of a relationship with her, because of the kind of place K is, to have a sense of what help she needed and who in our program could provide that help to her.”
Cruz introduced Mendoza to Sukuma Dow, a peer-led organization for underrepresented students in STEM, her first year at K. She has been an active participant ever since, serving last year and this coming year as a group leader.
“I did feel discouraged at some points my first year,” Mendoza said. “After taking some biology courses, I didn’t think STEM was for me. I doubted myself and it wasn’t until I got into the support group and talked more with Alex, Dr. Bartz and Dr. Tresca that I got myself out there and found what I truly enjoy. It has been a journey. I found what I like, I like being in a lab, and it took a lot of conversations, tough love and discipline to see that.”
Bartz, Cruz and Tresca all encouraged Mendoza to apply to Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer programs through the National Science Foundation. She ended up performing research on electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction at the University of Southern California, where she scrapped any lingering thoughts of med school and committed wholeheartedly to a chemistry major and future goal of a doctorate in chemistry.
“I came back from that summer and immediately started looking for opportunities for this summer,” Mendoza said. She prioritized research abroad, as the COVID-19 shutdown had pushed her to delay courses she wanted to take in person until her junior year, taking study abroad off the table for her.
As a result, in mid-June, Mendoza arrived in Karlsruhe, Germany, to take part in a Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) through the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), or German Academic Exchange Service. RISE offers undergraduate students the opportunity to complete a summer internship at a top German research institution. Students are matched with a host university or institute according to their area of interest—Karlsruhe Institute for Technology for Mendoza—and DAAD provides students a monthly stipend to help cover living expenses.
German professor Kathryn Sederberg helped Mendoza arrange housing, and the DAAD funding is supplemented by the Nahrain Kamber and Ralph Griffith Endowed Student Research Fellowship benefiting female science students at K. Together, the two funding sources fully cover Mendoza’s living expenses and provide her with a small stipend as well.