Graduates of CNM: Bianca Serda

After completing a prestigious internship at NASA where she studied bacteria that went to space, Bianca is now on her way to a Ph.D.
January 07, 2020

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. But this past season was particularly crazy for Bianca Serda, 31. She’s a former CNM student who’s now at UNM studying Biology and currently applying to Ph.D. programs at prestigious colleges across the country, including Stanford, Cornell, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota.  

“To think I’d have the chance to apply to all these top programs, and to have places like Stanford fly me out for a preview…it’s a dream,” Bianca says.

Bianca came to CNM after moving here from California and says she didn’t think she was good at science. But then she met professors like Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh and Heather Fitzgerald, who saw her talent and encouraged her to excel in class and beyond.

One big opportunity for Bianca came when Heather told her about the Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience (SCCORE) program, which is funded by the New Mexico, Louis Stokes, Alliance for Minority Participation (NM-AMP) National Science Foundation grant. As part of that program, CNM students are placed in paid internships with a nearby four-year research school and about five to seven participate each year. For her internships—Bianca went on to have two—she worked with Dr. David Hanson at UNM and studied the growth rates of algae encapsulated in silica gel. The point? To try and find ways to make algae more efficient for biofuel production.

These internships helped set her up to transfer to UNM, where she became a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar, a program that helps train underrepresented undergraduate students interested in biomedical research.

“I had the opportunity to have Bianca in a Microbiology class after her first SCCORE summer, when I was able to see in person her top-notch laboratory skills and just why she has been so successful in all the research work she has carried out,” Heather says. “The SCCORE program just opened a door, and Bianca stepped through that door confidently and hasn’t once stopped striding towards even greater science opportunities.”

Most recently, Bianca completed yet another internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center, where she studied soil bacteria that had attached itself to a NASA spaceship, then gone to space and come back alive. Her project included running a genomic analysis of that bacteria to find out how space had changed its DNA.

Going into the internship, Bianca was most interested in plant biology. But her project helped her develop a love for microbiology as well, so in her Ph.D. she plans to study the relationship between microorganisms and plants, and how extreme conditions affect that relationship. Stanford is her first choice because it’s such a prestigious program and because she’s originally from San Jose. The University of Minnesota is a close second because of the faculty she’d get to work with.

The application process has been long and hard, but Bianca should find out about program interviews very soon.

“So many good opportunities have come out of CNM, and now UNM, and other students just need to know that there are a ton of resources out there to help,” Bianca says. “You just have to find them and pursue them.”