Ellen Aguilera, ’16

Chemistry

“I want to serve as a role model for other students like me.”

Ellen Aguilera wants to break barriers by encouraging women and minorities to pursue education in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Aguilera, born in Bolivia but raised in Shirley, N.Y., transferred to West Virginia University as a sophomore wanting to become more involved in her field of study.

“My old school didn’t have a lot of opportunity for research, which is what I really wanted to do,” Aguilera said.

Thanks to the opportunities at WVU and the generosity of donors, the senior chemistry major has been excelling in academics and leadership since she arrived in Morgantown.

Upon transferring to WVU, Aguilera was named a McNair Scholar, which she said was a great start to pursuing her ultimate academic goal of earning a doctoral degree.

“They introduced me to everything I needed to know about getting my Ph.D. and, more importantly, they introduced me to research. I didn’t have a lot of background knowledge in the beginning. My parents didn’t go to college so it was a question of, ‘Where do I go from here?’” Aguilera said.

Her research in the McNair Scholars Program has focused on transition metal catalysis. Aguilera says the experience has inspired her and motivated her to continue research in that area; she is now doing research related to copper catalysis.

Aside from being a McNair Scholar, Aguilera is the president and founder of the Association of Women in Science chapter on campus. The national organization’s mission is to achieve equity and full participation of women in the employment sector who have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math. She believes that the chapter’s status as a student organization will allow undergraduate students to more easily participate.

Aguilera also works as a tutor for the Student Services Center and a teaching assistant for the chemistry department.

All of these achievements and activities are building Aguilera’s goal to leave an impact in the field that reaches others with backgrounds and interests similar to her own.

“I’ve never had a Hispanic or Latino professor ever,” Aguilera said. “In my life, I want to serve as a role model for other students like me.”

Her hard work and drive have been recognized and rewarded, as she receives two scholarships for WVU students pursuing degrees in the science field.

She is a recipient of the Dr. Jack and Mary Elizabeth Bates Science Scholarship, which provides scholarships to students enrolled in a science-based degree program who maintain a “B” average.

Aguilera also receives the Morrissey-Ropp Chemistry Scholarship from the Department of Chemistry, which is an annual scholarship awarded to students who demonstrate strength in math, science, and in particular, chemistry.

“As a transfer student, figuring out how to pay for school was a challenge,” Aguilera said. “I’m really thankful to be receiving scholarships to help pay for my education here at WVU.”