Story by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04
In the spring of 2015, Floricel Gonzalez (’16 BS) was attending the School of Molecular Biosciences scholarship awards ceremony holding a letter in her hand. She knew she’d received a scholarship, but didn’t yet know which one. Carefully opening the letter, she read the name: The Elizabeth R. Hall Endowment Scholarship*.
“My jaw dropped,” says Gonzalez. The prestigious award, given to promising students in medical microbiology, is $4,000. “It was a breath of fresh air that I don’t have to worry about tuition or books for my last year.”
Gonzalez, the daughter of migrant farm workers, grew up in Selah, Washington. Her parents immigrated in 1999 from Zacatecas, Mexico to the Yakima Valley in Washington State when Gonzalez was 4 years old. They worked hard, so that she and her five brothers and sisters could have more career opportunities.
“My parents’ dream of a better future instilled in me a passion for higher education,” says Gonzalez. “I did not know how I was going to fund my education, but thanks to various scholarships, such as this one, I have been able to make my dreams a reality.”
When she first came to Pullman on a college visit, Gonzalez says “I fell in love with the atmosphere of WSU.” At the time, her plan was to become a veterinarian, so WSU also lined up nicely with her career and academic goals. But then things took an unexpected turn.
“I got involved in research and that changed everything,” says Gonzalez. “I couldn’t imagine not working in a lab.”
She also found many mentors who encouraged her along the way, including Bill Davis, associate dean of undergraduate education in the School of Molecular Biosciences and her academic advisor. Dr. Davis suggested she apply for a 10-week summer research program with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
“I didn’t think I was good enough or would be able to compete,” she says. Then Davis gave her a few encouraging words. “He thought I was more than qualified.” She was accepted to the program and spent the summer of 2015 working in an infectious disease laboratory at Yale University where she studied a protein in the salivary glands of a mosquito that may contain an immunity property that could be used in future malaria vaccines.
Gonzalez, who is double majoring in microbiology and English, decided to continue with English as a major because solid writing skills are important for publishing research articles and applying for grants. The major, she believes, gives her an advantage over other science students in communicating science. She will graduate in 2016 and is already applying to doctoral programs. Her goal is to work as a research scientist at a university or health organization, such as the National Institutes of Health.
“I really love viruses,” she says. But Gonzalez is not limiting her options; she says she is also interested in bacterial pathogens. Ultimately, she wants to do work that will translate into human medicine and better human health. “My goal is to work at a public health research facility or academic institution, where I will use my findings to combat disease.”
After receiving the scholarship, she learned more about Elizabeth Hall’s career and her time at WSU, which made a big impact on Gonzalez. “I am honored to uphold her legacy and providing a positive perspective on what she’s left at WSU,” says Gonzalez. “It is an honor to have her name associated with mine.”