For more than 50 years, NASA has been a world leader in space research and exploration. Since its creation during the Eisenhower presidency, NASA has made remarkable discoveries and advancements in aeronautics, launching humans into space and landing the first men on the moon. More recently, NASA also served as host to one of SJC’s very own.
Victor Cruz ’14, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry at St. Joseph’s Long Island Campus, shows an incessant desire to learn, research and shape a more comprehensive understanding of all things related to natural science. When talking with him, his intrigue and passion for organic chemistry are easily spotted.
But he is not studying astronomy or astrophysics at SJC. So what brought this biology and chemistry student to complete an internship at NASA’s esteemed Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.?
Like most, Victor first thought NASA concentrated solely on outer space. “I thought, ‘NASA is space and astronauts. What am I going to do with biology and chemistry?’ But when I got there, they said, ‘We have biology and chemistry here. We have a whole life science [department] at NASA.’”
In fact, NASA focuses on much more than “space and astronauts.” With an annual budget of nearly $900 million for the Ames Center alone, NASA maintains expertise in areas ranging from information technology, aerospace and aeronautics engineering, to space, Earth, lunar and biological sciences. There, Victor was able to pursue his interests and then some, delving into the study of proteins.
In jargon comprehensible only to scientists, Victor ardently discussed his lab responsibilities and research on chip-based protein crystallization at NASA. He spent three months at Ames experimenting with different proteins and computer chips, testing for ways to get the chips to recognize when the proteins had latched on.
While in the lab, Victor also discovered something else. He learned through hands-on research that his ambitions have shifted somewhat. Though his original plans directed him toward becoming a physician, Victor’s interests now lie in research and lab work.
“I like learning how to do something and then applying it, instead of just being the applier,” he said. “I still have the feeling that what I’m doing can help save lives, improve the lives of individuals and have such a big impact.”
When he is not at NASA drilling nano-sized holes into computer chips and binding various types of proteins to them, Victor keeps busy with several extracurricular activities and clubs on campus. He admits, however, that he did not always see extracurricular involvement as something necessarily beneficial to the college experience. As a freshman, he concentrated exclusively on schoolwork.
“When I first began [at St. Joseph’s College], I really didn’t join any clubs,” Victor said. “I thought I was just going to be here for the school … But I knew, to do better for myself and to get more opportunities, I had to get more involved.” Sure enough, he was able to turn it around. In his second semester, Victor went from having virtually no extracurricular involvement to participating in various organizations on campus. Now, he says, “I like to get involved with anything I can.” And he has certainly done just that. Victor is currently a member of Students Taking an Active Role in Society (STARS) club and a tutor in the College’s academic center. Since coming to St. Joseph’s, through internship or volunteering opportunities, he has taken trips to three states and three countries.
Victor participated in two alternative spring break trips with STARS, travelling to Pensacola, Fla., to clean up after the massive oil spill in 2010 and to Joplin, Mo., to aid the rebuilding efforts after 2011’s catastrophic tornado. In 2011, he completed an internship for MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education, and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere) where he helped provide checkups and medical screenings to impoverished people in Peru. And through the Freshman Global Experience program, Victor visited Greece and Italy.
These trips were more than chances to travel. For Victor, they were opportunities to further his education. “Really, education does not end in the summer when school ends,” he explained. “It continues. It always continues.”
Some ingredients to Victor’s success are his unparalleled work ethic, gusto for helping others, love for learning and readiness to grab all opportunities available to him.
“Take advantage of everything,” he advises. “Any opportunities you can take advantage of, just do it.”
Victor’s enthusiasm, paired with his knack for seizing opportunities, has allowed him to get the most from a fruitful college experience. But most importantly, he has enjoyed the ride so far. Victor raves about the department and some of his favorite professors. He emphasizes the excitement that each professor brings to his schooling, making it well known that each has strongly influenced the scope of his educational foci in one way or another.
Victor has undoubtedly accomplished a great deal throughout his short academic career. The former Wyandanch High School valedictorian and Presidential Grant recipient has a couple of impressive internships under his belt, a stellar GPA and a mound of volunteer experience.
And much like NASA, Victor’s vision is set on attaining new heights and discovering the unknown — as the agency’s motto declares — “For the Benefit of All.” Victor hopes to take what he has learned, continue to build on it through another internship, graduate from St. Joseph’s College, gain entrance into a graduate program for chemical biology and eventually get published for further research on proteins and other areas of organic chemistry. From there, the sky is the limit.