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ENLACE bridges students from both sides of the border through STEM

Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 21:32:44-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — At UC San Diego, there is a summer program unlike any other. ENLACE started as a way to bridge high school students from San Diego and Tijuana who had a passion for STEM.

This camp of opportunity by the Jacobs School of Engineering has evolved into a life-changing experience for thousands.

“I never saw any scientific interactions between the two sides of the border," explains Olivia Graeve.

The professor was born in Tijuana and grew up with a love for STEM. She attended schools in Tijuana for K-12th but attended UCSD for her undergraduate degree.

Yet, the binational student did not see many other peers like her.

“As a student, I did not see that interaction," she shares. "I did not recognize that as an interaction that we had, and I felt that it was lacking.”

It is what pushed Graeve to start ENLACE. In 2013, the summer research program was created to try and pair high school students from San Diego with those in Tijuana. The students would then live on campus for 7 weeks, immersed in various labs of a specific area of focus.

“Really doing research, not just cleaning dished for the lab. Truly participating and contributing in research," Graeve explains what the students do.

"Even though they are 16, 17-year-olds, I believe they can do it, in Spanish, we say ‘Si se puede. I very strongly believe in 'Si, se puede'.”

Professor Graeve's first students were five high school friends from Tijuana.

“It wasn’t until I had that opportunity at ENLACE program that I started noticing there were many other paths and opportunities that I could have," says Alma Lorena Carrillo.

The biotech engineer says that the program did not just get her feet wet working side by side with experts in the field. But Carrillo says she bettered her English, something all the girls struggled with.

“Of course, we were familiar with the colors and fruits, but when it came to not only having all these conversations but talking about science in English was a complete challenge," explains Carrillo. "It propelled on how I wanted to learn English.”

For students like Paulina Ramirez, who is now doing her residency at San Ysidro Health, concepts that she learned in the lab, she believed helped her later.

“I can’t believe at 16 years old I was talking about moles and reverse micelles and nanotechnology," Ramirez explained. "Even nine years ago, reading it now I was like omg how?!”

Brianna Fernandez believes it was because of the program that she figured out what she wanted to do. She is now a software engineer. Fernandez decided to return, twice more to ENLACE to become a mentor.

“I saw how it was first fifty students, then one hundred then one hundred fifty," she explains. "Seeing how that changed the students now from both sides of the border and create the international friendships was very inspiring, and I am very happy to have been a part of that.”

The program now accepts students from all over Mexico and the United States. The program has a 30% acceptance rate, taking on both high school and graduate students.

The program also focuses on college prep and career development, “It’s also what do I want to do with that career to help humanity?" questions Professor Graeve. "To become a better person?”

But most importantly, Professor Graeve believes the most important aspect of the program, is the friendships from both sides of the border, that last a lifetime.

“You are all coming together, and in that sense, you are all on the same boat," Graeve explains. "Your ethnicity, your gender, your socioeconomic status, it all drops away. And we are going to have a lived experience together.”

ENLACE has already accepted all students for this summer. ENLACE is accepting students for 2023.