CNM Graduate Tackles One of Science's Biggest Questions
Angelica Cave

CNM Graduate Tackles One of Science's Biggest Questions

She's now at New Mexico Tech pursuing her master's degree and conducting research on antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
September 12, 2018

Angelica Cave grew up in a family that didn’t believe in science. She remembers reading books, for example, that said dinosaurs never existed. But that didn’t stop her curiosity. She wanted to know how things worked and where they came from, so she devoured shows on PBS and asked questions wherever she went.

In high school people called her dumb. She had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that went undiagnosed and sometimes struggled with certain subjects or approaches. But yet again, she persevered, finished high school and decided to enroll in college at CNM back in 2007.

At CNM, she finally found a place where her learning style and curiosity could flourish. Angelica, who’s now 29, had friends and instructors who helped her through subjects she had struggled with, like algebra and trigonometry, and she also took subjects like chemistry and biology that solidified her interest in science.

“It sounds a little cliché, but CNM truly helped me spread my wings,” Angelica says.

After graduating from CNM with an associate degree in Liberal Arts in 2009, Angelica decided a four-year school was next so she applied and was accepted at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Biology in 2013, and now she’s studying for a master’s in Biology with a focus on environmental microbiology.

Her work looks at a particular kind of microbe—Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CREs for short—that are able to develop a resistance to our strongest antibiotics. Not all microbes in the Enterobacteriaceae family are antibiotic resistant, but they are very common in the environment and in the gut microbiota of humans, meaning they often end up in sewage treatment plants. She’s currently studying samples taken from different points in the wastewater treatment process at two different wastewater treatment plants to find out if CREs are present.

“It’s a big unknown,” she says. “We don’t know how wastewater treatment factors into the spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment, and I’d like to pursue that question further.”

Her work, which has important public health ramifications, was just recognized by the New Mexico State Water Resource Research Institute, which gave her a grant that will help her with everything from logistics to supplies.

“Without this grant, it’d be difficult for our lab to afford everything we need for this project,” she says. “And I’m really excited to have the opportunity to present this research at the WRRI research conference in October.”

Once Angelica graduates next year, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and possibly work in the science communication field. Communication, for her, is a key recruitment tool, and she wants young science-curious students to know that it’s a field they can pursue, even if they don’t understand everything at first glance.

“I feel really fortunate to have had this chance, coming from where I did,” she says. “I want to show people that they can pursue anything they want to, even if it seems scary or complicated.”