DOWNEY - Warren alumni Ernesto Rojas was no stranger to success in high school; he was Drum Major of the marching band, part of the drama program, a golden bear recipient in science, and graduated with top honors. He was even voted Prom King.
So, it’s not surprising that that success has followed him from his days of being a bear into his tenure as a Bruin, and it’s a safe bet that it’ll follow him even beyond that.
22-year-old Rojas recently received the UCLA Senior of the Year Award, which is given by the Bruinlife yearbook. Six seniors were chosen who exemplify the ideals of the university and who represent excellence in a variety of forms, including academics, community service or activism in school life.
“For me it was a lot about my own research and the fact that I succeeded in the MCAT,” said Rojas.
Rojas, who recently graduated with a major in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and a minor in Biomedical research, can add the Senior of the Year to an already impressive list of accolades.
“I graduated Magna Cum Lade, College Honors, and Highest Department honors, which are the three that you can get on your diploma,” said Rojas.
He also received the Outstanding Senior Award within his major, and a Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society recipient.
“At the end of graduation, it was really cool to have a lot of cool accolades,” said Rojas.
While at studying at UCLA, Rojas’s research was in stem cells and the attempted creation of sperm and egg. He currently continues in that work.
“I work still in the same stem cell lab full time,” said Rojas.
However, this is only a temporary position as Rojas is currently applying to several different MD-PhD programs as he pursues a dual degree.
“The idea is for me to go and do a Medical Doctorate and then a Ph-D as well,” said Rojas. “I would be studying infertility kind of work, trying to be an OBGYN and studying in developmental bio.”
The program will take eight years to complete.
Rojas says he is fascinated by the combination and interaction of sperm and egg, and how that formula creates human life as we know it.
“I want to study that process and what happens when either they fuse and something doesn’t happen…and also trying to understand before hand to ever make a sperm and egg. Some people just don’t have that ability…understanding that kind of process is what brought me at UCLA. By the time I had graduated, I had done about three years of research.”
Rojas says that once he finishes his dual doctorate programs, he plans to work primarily in lab research. While he doesn’t necessarily see himself working with patients other than maybe a few times a week (if that), he feels the medical degree will bring valuable experience. He described the likely outcome to be an “80 – 20 split” between lab work and patient work.
“I don’t really want to be a medical doctor,” said Rojas. “I think for the research and the work that I do the only way to do it meaningfully is to have that medical degree and to understand dealing with patients.”
“I could do all that kind of work with only a Ph-D, but I think that going through med school and seeing patients gives me this perspective that’s different from other researchers.”
Rojas says he also wants to be a professor at a medical school.
“I also do research in bio ethics, these kinds of questions of how do we use medicine, how do we use science in a way that’s responsible,” said Rojas. “I want to be able to teach developmental biology. I also want to be teaching bio-ethics to medical students or researchers about what is it we’re doing now, how do we treat patients in a respectful way, how do we deal with situations that arise…”
The ultimate goal, however, could be considered much more rewarding.
“I’ll work with people who are trying to conceive and have very unique circumstances where they’re not able to conceive and work with them to try and give them the opportunity to have a family,” said Rojas. “That’s kind of the goal: to be able to give people who want a family [the ability to] have a family.”