Science student climbs out of poverty through research at CSUMB

Screenshot: Spencer winter presenting on the sanddab via Zoom

March 23, 2022

By Tatiana Muniz

Spencer H. Winter, a junior double majoring in molecular biology and human development and family sciences, started off this year’s annual Celebration of Research event in February. He ran through the same presentation that earned him first place at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center’s Fall Research Competition. 

After concluding his presentation, titled “Adult Neurogenesis in The Fish Model Speckled Sanddab,” Winter shifted his academic tone to a more conversational one.

“I came to CSUMB with my only goal being to escape poverty,” he said. “I had no particular broader expectations or plans, but it was a faculty member in my second week of class who pulled me aside and said, ‘You need to go further. You can do something more.’ ”

Winter thanked Liberal Studies Professor Rob Weisskirch, the faculty member who pulled him aside. He also thanked Assistant Professor of Psychology Zurine de Miguel for her support.

“I had no background or field experience, but through her constant care, mentorship, and attention, she’s made me feel sure I know where I’m going, I know what I'm doing, and I know what's coming,” Winter said. 

Thanks to mentorship of faculty and staff like Weisskirch, de Miguel, and others, Winter has broken through the cracks of the pavement of poverty and has grown and flourished in academia.

“I came to CSUMB as a transfer student — a lost transfer student from an impoverished background — and now I am one of the two Goldwater nominees this year,” he said. The Goldwater Foundation awards the Barry Goldwater Scholarship to college sophomores and juniors who pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

Winter will also participate in Caltech's WAVE Fellows program over the summer. The program seeks to promote diversity in science and engineering doctoral programs by making Caltech’s programs more accessible to underrepresented students. The program will help Winter on his journey to obtain a doctorate in neuroengineering and biotechnologies.

“We know from systematic data that high-quality student research experiences positively impact student learning, persistence, and career choice,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Katherine Kantardjieff. 

“Grants earned by our Sponsored Programs Office have directly benefited our efforts to help more students graduate in STEM fields,” she said. In 2021, grant funding at CSUMB employed 36 graduate students and nearly 200 undergrad students.

”These activities open doors to greater and more exciting opportunities for our students, and they empower faculty and students to meet complex challenges in a rapidly evolving world.”