CHICAGO (CBS) – A professor at the University of Chicago is on a mission to bring more diversity and inclusion to science.
He is already breaking ground with his research and is hoping to spread his passion to communities on the South Side. CBS 2's Andrew Ramos had the story.
For professor Juan Mendoza, a protein engineer and computational biologist at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the U of C, his passion for the field has never faltered.
"The feeling is amazing that you can enjoy science, but make a difference," he said.
Mendoza, a first-generation Mexican American, was the first person in his family to go to college. He's living out a dream at his lab at one of the top research institutions in the country, where engineering cancer treatments is mostly on the agenda.
It's a dream that he never thought was possible.
"It's really discovering a path on our own, and it's a little harder," Mendoza said. "My goal is to make it easier for others."
Even though he said he didn't realize it at the time, mentorship, especially from other Hispanic researchers, served as a game changer for Mendoza.
The impact of representation is playing a role in his own lab.
"I hear it all the time that it's just great to see someone like me, and I never appreciated that because it was rare to actually see someone like myself," he said.
This year, Mendoza was awarded a $2 million research grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as part of a program committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in science.
The professor and his team is getting ready for the South Side Science Fest hosted by the University of Chicago, which pushes the motto of "science for all" and hopes to reel in young people from the community, showing them how science intersects with daily life.
"If I am able to give a few people a chance to see what's life is like or work in a lab to get some experience to get into medicine, that's a wonderful thing," Mendoza said.
The South Side Science Fest kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday on the U of C campus. It is free and open to the public.
To learn more about the festival, visit southsidescience.event.uchicago.edu.
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