Sonia Bustos Barocio takes first place at National STEM Diversity Conference

Los Medanos College’s own Sonia Bustos Barocio recently won first place in the Cell/Molecular Biology category at the National STEM Diversity Conference held by the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans. Hundreds of students presented their scientific research to their peers.

Bustos Barocio’s winning presentation was titled “Role of Flgo: Novel Small RNA Regulated by Flagella Sigma Factor.” Bustos Barocio described her presentation as a “project focused on how small RNAs regulate gene expression.”

“I was investigating the role of a novel small RNA on bacterial flagella synthesis,” Bustos Barocio described. RNAs, or ribonucleic acids, are cell particles similar to DNA that assist in many cellular functions, and ‘flagella synthesis’ refers to the process by which cells make flagellum, or tails, that allow them to move around in microspace.

“During my presentation… I explained the different approaches I used to determine the functions of the newly discovered small RNA, and discussed the significance of studying small non-coding RNA,” Bustos Barocio continued.

According to Math Engineering Science Achievement Program Director Dr. Nicole Trager, Bustos Barocio’s “competition was steep and included people from across the country with undergraduates from places such as Yale, Penn State, UCB and many more.”

“Her research was based on a project that she performed over the summer at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.,” Trager continued. Bustos Barocio had been working as an intern at the NIH, a position she secured through MESA.

The NIH presentation served as something of a warm-up for the SACNAS conference, and helped Bustos Barocio to “feel prepared” for the latter.

On the day of the presentation, Bustos Barocio recounted that “at first” she felt “extremely nervous,” but quickly fell into a groove and delivered the presentation smoothly.

“I was experiencing imposter fears and felt intimidated by the scholars and scientists who were going to attend,” she reflected. “The moment I started talking about my project, I got immersed in excitement and completely forgot about how nervous I was. I found my project extremely fascinating and just wanted to share my enthusiasm with other scholars. By the end… I found people were smiling, and genuinely interested in what I had to share.”

Bustos Barocio was one of 117 winners at the conference, and described it as a “true honor” to be one of those winners.

“I owe my accomplishments to my mentors, friends and the strong scientific community at Los Medanos College,” she said. “Without my mentors, who are like my second parents, I don’t know if I would have ever had the confidence to pursue my goals.”

Bustos Barocio also gave presentations at Honors Research Symposiums at UC Berkely and Stanford University in 2016 and 2017. A Biomedical Science major, she plans to transfer to UCLA, UC Berkeley or Harvey Mudd College after LMC and hopes to study all the way to a PhD.

“I would like to encourage students to get involved in campus activities and seek opportunities to get involved in local research projects,” she advised. “I was severely intimidated by research when I started my projects, but now I know that with the right type of support, it is possible to make it through.”

Heavily involved with the MESA Program, the SACNAS Club and Honors Program at LMC, Bustos Barocio currently works on campus at LMC as a Chemistry Laboratory Technician, Biology Teaching Assistant and STEM Tutor, and can be seen around campus often.

“If anybody has any questions about how to get started doing research, please feel free to reach out to me.”