Alexandra Melena.

As a Hispanic woman from Southern California, Alexandra Malena questioned just how welcome she would feel at Washington State University’s rural Pullman campus.

She also found herself asking how she would fare in WSU’s neuroscience curriculum.

“Being first-gen and in a STEM field, I always had these doubts in the back of my mind,” Malena said. “But I quickly found a group of people here who helped me feel welcome and comfortable.”

That group, a hodgepodge of undergraduate and graduate students inside Associate Professor Ryan McLaughlin’s laboratory, eventually led her to another support network – WSU’s new Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program.

In addition to financial and peer support through the program, Malena, whose father is from Argentina and mother is from Mexico, said the program has helped her believe in herself when imposter syndrome kicks in.

It also pushed her to explore her passion for the brain and add neuroscience as a second major, in addition to psychology. “The aspect I love about psychology was learning about the brain, so I felt I should probably be studying neuroscience too,” she said.

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