By Benjamin Beane
The first day of school can be a whirlwind for any high schooler, but this year was especially memorable for Eastside Early College High School junior Marith Diaz Cruz, who learned she was selected as a Young Women in Bio Ambassador.
“They sent a letter to my mom’s email, but I didn’t know and she didn’t know, so when I came here the first school day that’s when I realized because Dr. [Sanford] Jeames was like, ‘Marith, you’ve been selected to represent the state of Texas,’” recalled Diaz Cruz.
A Young Women in Bio Ambassador is a female student leader with a passion for STEM. As an ambassador, Diaz Cruz will encourage STEM learning, programming and events at the local and national level; help with social media and online outreach on the organization’s social media channels and create an Ambassador Action Plan with the assistance of her Chapter mentor.
Diaz Cruz moved to the U.S. three years ago from El Salvador with limited English. She worked an after-school job six days a week and woke up early each morning to run cross country. Despite the full load, Diaz Cruz presently has a 4.1 GPA and currently ranks fourth in her class in academics.
“It’s hard speaking English, that’s not easy, but practice and you’ll learn, and whatever you want to do, nobody can tell you that you can’t, or you shouldn’t listen to anybody who tells you that you can’t,” she said. “You’ve got to keep moving, keep going and keep moving, and that’s how you grow.”
Her mother, Victorina Diaz Cruz, witnessed her dedication and hard work firsthand and said she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter.
“As a student and as a person, I would describe Marith as a good student all the time, excellent, really good,” she said in Spanish via a translator. “She studies a lot at night, but now she works while going to school, she has a job from 5-10 at night, then she only rests one day and, well, although she has a job, her grades do not drop.”
Diaz Cruz’s story played a major part in her selection. As part of the application process, she submitted a resume, letters of reference and several essays about herself and her passion for STEM, which caught the eye of Michaela Vargas, chair of Young Women in Bio Texas.
Vargas will serve as Diaz Cruz’s Ambassador Mentor and meet with her at least twice a month to make sure she has everything she needs to succeed.
“What stood out with Marith is she has only been in this country for three years, she is an immigrant, and she’s a Latina — I’m a Latina scientist — and for me it’s very important to not only have this program include diversity but also include that diversity,” Vargas said.
Diaz Cruz became familiar with Young Women in Bio while attending an Earth Day clean up event at Govalle Park with the Eastside Student Council. She approached Health Science teacher Sanford Jeames and told him she wanted to go to college for STEM.
She had known Jeames from her time with the Eastside Leadership Institute, which aimed to develop student leaders for the campus. Because Young Women in Bio’s Dr. Vargas had previously visited Eastside ECHS to discuss the program, Jeames was able to provide Diaz Cruz with an application and help her fill it out. She then prepared her application, wrote her essay, approached other teachers for recommendations and submitted her application for consideration in March.
“I think one of the most significant things, again, for me, it's just her willingness to do something that could be scary,” Jeames said. “But when I listen to her story of her family, […] I think it says a lot about her character.”
Diaz displayed additional willingness to try new and scary things during summer 2021 as a participant in Eastside Leadership Institute. The summer leadership institute was led by Dr. Jeames and Harry Brooks, among other teachers, as part of the ongoing initiatives following their being awarded the inaugural Rather Prize in 2016 at SXSW Edu.
Jeames is a firm believer in encouraging women to pursue STEM and the Young Women in Bio Ambassador program, and he’s encouraged other students to apply.
“I think the most significant aspect of this program is the fact that it exposes our young women to other female leaders that look like them,” Jeames said.
Young Women in Bio has 13 Chapters across the U.S. and one in Canada. For more information: womeninbio.org/page/YWIBAmbassadors.