Success Story - Lucydalila Cedillo

Lucydalila Cedillo

Lucydalila Cedillo, Animal Science Major, graduated in Spring 2016. She is the recipient of the 2016 University Medal. The University Medal recognizes a graduating senior for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society. She has accepted an offer of admission to Harvard University’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program.

Click here to read her amazing story from growing up in a tough neighborhood to being accepted as a PhD graduate student at Harvard University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

What is your current profession?

I have accepted an offer of admission to Harvard University’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program and will gain the foundation of knowledge I need to pursue my dream of becoming a professor at a research institution.

What do you remember most about UCD Animal Science?

It is impossible to list just one. I remember the moment I found my passion for animal genetics when Dr. Famula explained the genetic mechanism underlying coat color in Labrador retrievers. I thoroughly enjoyed the diverse amount of material covered in my animal science courses and the wide range of research opportunities that were available. I absolutely loved the Fall and Spring BBQs (with delicious tri-tip!) and volunteering at the Animal Biotechnology Booth on Picnic Day. What I cherished the most were the friendly people in the department. I remember interacting with very approachable faculty members and learning much more beyond lecture material, and the staff at the Animal Science Advising Center were more than willing to help with any issues I faced.

If you were just starting at UCD now, what would you tell yourself?

Never be afraid to ask questions. The door of opportunity can only open if you take the time to knock.

Anything else you would like to share?

One valuable lesson I learned early on was to stop memorizing my way through college. Take the time to truly understand concepts and find ways to connect ideas from different courses; it will definitely help you in the long run and you will gain a much greater appreciation for your education. And always keep this in mind: the greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph!

My Story

While growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, my parents rarely allowed me to play outside. So, I found others ways to entertain myself, which sparked my love for knowledge at a very young age. My budding curiosity was eminent when I would ask my mother to bring me ants from outside, so I could take a closer look at them. I vividly recall staring at those tiny creatures for hours and asking myself questions such as, “why does this ant have a segmented body,” and “why does it have six legs and not eight, like a spider?” At that point, I had no access to any form of literature since I grew up without a single book in my household. Nonetheless, I remain grateful, because this encouraged me to come up with the wildest hypotheses and served to establish the curious mind that I posses today.

This curiosity and immense passion for learning has allowed me to succeed throughout my academic career, but not without an extra level of persistence that resulted from a lifetime of watching my father struggle to support my family in a new country. As an immigrant, my dad continued his two professions as a mechanic and musician. I have watched my father endure the physical demands of his two jobs my entire life in his aspiration to provide for us, yet he never complained. I have translated this persistence my father possessed to my life long drive of succeeding as a student. For example, I have maintained at least a 4.0 GPA since 7th grade. Throughout these years, I experienced the deaths of family members and close friends, I assisted my father in his work with unloading and assembling music equipment, and I voluntarily spent hours collecting cans out of trash bins with my stay-at-home mother to help her financially. I endured this while also training and being an assistant instructor in self-defense karate, maintaining a commitment to the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at my high school, and more recently, I have led an independent research project since my sophomore year. Yet, when one looks at my academic record, there are no signs of me giving in to the pressures and obstacles that life presented me with. Since my parents never had the opportunity to continue their education beyond grade school, I understand how blessed I am to simply be in school. Therefore, I have also felt a strong responsibility to make them proud by making the most out of my education.

As a freshman, I was intrigued by biological research because it encompasses my insatiable curiosity to understand the complex processes that create life. As I took introductory animal science courses, I was completely transfixed by the sections that focused on genetics. I was fascinated by the fact that a simple sequence of nucleotides can create a complex living being. Even more astounding was how certain mutations in genes and/or regulatory elements can lead to such diverse phenotypes, including disease.

In addition, I was inspired to pursue teaching as a career by some of my animal science professors who have truly mastered the art of lecturing and showed an immense passion for their students’ success. In order to obtain training as a potential lecturer, I became an undergraduate teaching assistant for a former instructor. I realized early on that I genuinely enjoyed teaching other students and helping them understand difficult concepts. I have been complimented on my ability to teach effectively by my professors and peers, and I find it very fulfilling to successfully convey my knowledge in a way that also excites my students.

My desire to learn more about genetics and pursue research in this field drove me to join Dr. Michael R. Miller’s laboratory, whose research focuses on salmonid genetics and genomics. My specific project involves the construction of a genetic map for rainbow trout. The utility of current genetic maps for improving genome assembly is limited because conventional recombinant progeny used to generate these maps present issues related to recombination suppression in male meiosis and result in relatively low genetic marker density. Therefore, we produced novel types of recombinant progeny that represent recombination events derived from female meiosis, which was expected to yield a higher resolution genetic map.

Using these progeny coupled with high-density genotyping methods, I constructed a genetic map comprised of more genetic markers and unique map positions than any previous genetic map. In addition, we generated recombinant progeny using the conventional approach, and I created a second genetic map as a means for comparison. These linkage maps will provide critical genetic resources that can be applied to future conservation, aquaculture, and biomedical research in salmonids.

Out of curiosity, I compared the corresponding chromosomes from both genetic maps and discovered stringent differences in the spatial distribution of recombination between sexes. This biological phenomenon has not been previously described in rainbow trout or any other species. My hunger to investigate possible explanations for the mechanism underlying this phenomenon has extended my original project.I am now the first author on a manuscript for this research that will soon be submitted to Genetics for publication.

In addition, I am honored to represent the Animal Science major as the recipient of the 2016 University Medal.