Last year, Gabino Guzman, 20, participated in a summer internship at UC Santa Cruz’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) and was part of the team that entered the International Synthetic Biology Competition. He was the only Latino, the only Hartnell student, and the only one with parents who work in the fields.

“To be honest, I felt out of place there,” Guzman said. “I felt like I did not bring any value to the team; they were all smarter than me and had a completely different upbringing than me.” But this changed. In this international competition, the team had to interact with teams in other countries, and thus when La Universidad de Tecnológia de Chihuahua, Mexico connected with the UCSC team, Gabino was the only one who spoke Spanish and translated for the team.

“That was the moment I realized I have traits that are unique to me and that my team celebrated,” he said. “On the last day of the internship, I was invited to join them to present our research in Paris – I was floored!” He wrote a letter to the Hartnell College Foundation and to his dean asking for a scholarship to support his travel expenses to France. It was a process that had to be approved by the Foundation Board and the College Board of Trustees. And thus, with all the necessary blessings, Gabino was off to Paris on October 2022. “I did not even process it up until I was at the Eiffel Tower,” he said. “That’s when I realized I was a long way from home.” He was there with his team for one week, during which they presented to teams from other countries as shown in the photo with representatives of India. He enjoyed workshops and visiting Paris during their free time.

His team at UCSC worked on producing a protein called “Exendin-4 (Ex-4)” in E.Coli and S. cerevisiae to make Type 2 Diabetes treatment more accessible for under-resourced and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Ex-4 is a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist (GLP1-RA) drug that triggers a response that leads to increased insulin production and sensitivity. Their goal is to produce a bio-encapsulated GLP1-RA Ex-4 that is cost-effective for patients.

“To our donors, thank you for changing my life as a first-generation college student!” He said. “Thank you for believing in me and bringing me a step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a physician scientist.”

Guzman graduated from Soledad High School in 2020 and began his college career at Hartnell College that same year. When he graduates in May 2024, he will have earned associate degrees in biology, physics, chemistry, and math. His goal is to become a physician scientist and earn an MD and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. He gives credit to his support programs in MESA, TRiO, and MILE (Men’s Institute of Leadership and Education) for having the drive and motivation to keep going.

“My TRiO director, Manuel Bersamin, is always encouraging me,” he said. “He was there when for a moment I doubted myself and he reassured me that I am meant to do great things with my life – I am infinitely thankful to him and to MESA for believing in me.” Although he has a busy academic life and work schedule with MESA, Gabino finds time to read classical books and philosophy, and he enjoys playing chess and working out. He has a little brother and two half-sisters.

“Hartnell was the best choice for me and I hope many others take advantage of a local community college that provides all you need to succeed,” he said. “I have struggled, but I have taken advantage of all the resources here, I have put in the work, and I am succeeding.” Gabino says that his parents are proud of him and that his dad tells him how he never imagined he would get a son who is such a hard worker. “It is a nice feeling to hear my dad be so proud,” he added.