Laurita Uribe Aristizabal

Laurita Uribe Aristizabal

Laurita Uribe Aristizabal is a transfer biological sciences major from Rockford, IL

Hometown: Rockford, IL

Year: Expected graduation: 2024

Transfer from: Rock Valley College

Why did you choose to attend NIU?
I heard good feedback from trusted peers.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
Ever since I was little, I wished to do something in the medical field so I could help people get better. Today, I am continuing in that passion as I study to become a doctor. Medicine is an incredible field in my eyes, as it is an area that is constantly evolving and growing with each technological advancement and discovery. It is a field in which you get to constantly grow and learn new things; there is no limit. 

What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study?
I am pursuing a major in biological sciences with minors in chemistry and Latin American studies. I am studying this major because it aligns with my interests and what I wish to do in the future, which is to pursue a career in medicine. I chose to add a minor in Latin American studies, as I found there was an immense gap in my knowledge of Latin American history. This was alarming to me as an immigrant student because these were things I felt I should know more about. I hope my understanding of Latin American culture will allow me to become a better doctor in the future. I wish to use everything I learn at NIU to become not only a knowledgeable doctor, but also one who is understanding and compassionate of others’ history and perspectives. 

Have you conducted your own research through Research Rookies, Honors capstones or theses or any other faculty-guided research opportunity?

Tell us about the research you are doing and why it interests you.
My research project was focused on hacking cancer cell metabolism. I really enjoyed working on this with my mentor, Dr. Linda Yasui. We were working toward improving cancer treatments by finding out more about how cancer cells operate and what can be targeted to make treatments more effective. To do this, I got to learn how to culture cancer cells and use a confocal microscope. Learning about these things so early in my education is extremely exciting, as it means that in a few years, I may be able to make an even bigger impact in the field. 

How has conducting research strengthened your education and experience at NIU?
Conducting research has strengthened my education and experience at NIU because it has taught me to be patient and to not be afraid to ask questions. It has taught me that science is a field in which you need to constantly ask questions and work toward answering those questions. Without these questions, there is no way for you to grow and contribute to your field. Failure may be scary when trying to solve these questions, but this is how you discover new things. This opportunity has also allowed me to dive deeper into articles and journals written by other scientists in the field, which has been beneficial in conducting my own research alongside my mentor. 

How will your research experience help you in the future?
In the future, my research experience will help me be patient with co-workers and clients in the field, along with helping me work in a collaborative environment. The experience has also developed my confidence, preparing me to present projects to groups of people in the future. Since it was a collaborative experience, I got to meet people from many departments on campus. This strengthened my people and communication skills by taking me out of my comfort zone, allowing me to grow. 

Who at NIU has been important to your success doing research and why?
Dr. Linda Yasui and Research Rookies. Dr. Yasui was extremely helpful in guiding me through the research process and always answered my questions. This was my first-ever research project, and I am so grateful to have had her as my mentor. Research Rookies was also really important to my success. The program taught me about the technical aspects of conducting and presenting research.

What advice would you give to an incoming student as it relates to research at NIU?
I would say to not be afraid to ask professors if they have a spot available in their lab. Lots of faculty-led projects are posted on the NIU website, so you can find a lab that interests you. I believe finding a lab that fits your personality is also important, since it can help determine whether research is an enjoyable experience for you. Other than that, most professors are very excited to have undergraduate students in their lab who are ready to learn!

What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU?
Something I have found pleasantly surprising about NIU is how nice the people are here. After COVID-19 hit, I noticed that it became difficult to talk and connect with others, but after coming to NIU, I saw that was not the case here. People are so nice and inviting, and I have made so many new friends here. It is so nice seeing how willing everyone is to help each other succeed, whether by providing feedback or sharing resources. 

How have you connected with other students to study for classes, meet new people or form new friendships?
I have made so many friends here at NIU. I am grateful for the group I met while taking Organic Chemistry. We all study together, making a difficult class more enjoyable. Since I commute, having a group of friends like them has been so nice. We can grab lunch and attend school events together when we have free time. Having these friends has helped me adapt to being in a new school and enjoy it to the fullest.

What NIU offices, departments or resources have helped you succeed? And how?
One of my biggest supporters at NIU was Sandy Lopez in the Undocumented Student Resource Center. Although I am not an undocumented student, Sandy has helped me countless times since I transferred to NIU. She suggested the Research Rookies program to me and helped me apply for many scholarship opportunities. If I needed help with something outside her scope, she would find someone who could help, even reaching out first to tell them I was headed their way. Sandy has helped my transition to NIU so much and has always been in my corner. Without her, I don't think I would have had so many beneficial experiences this year. 

How have you benefited by attending class regularly?
Attending lectures regularly really helps decrease the time you need to study because you're not trying to relearn everything, you’re just increasing your understanding of what you learned in class. Being in class is also helpful in case you need to ask questions or there are unexpected extra credit opportunities, which happens more often than you'd think! 

Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
My favorite spot is the outdoor seating area behind Faraday Hall. This spot is really beautiful and peaceful. When the weather is nice, I like to sit there and study or eat lunch.

What advice would you give to a student who is researching colleges to apply to?
Trust your gut and go for what you need. I received a lot of negative comments for attending a community college before transferring to NIU. Looking back, I am so glad I followed my gut instead of listening to others. I was afraid of the stigma that might come from attending a community college and whether it would limit my success, but my time at my community college allowed me to grow and have a smoother transition from high-school-level courses to college-level courses. When it was time to transfer, I was ready to go to a bigger university and had more tools at my disposal than if I had transferred there directly.

Why is a college education important to you?
Having a college education is important for many reasons. It allows you to discover new interests and pursue a career that will satisfy you in the future because it's something you truly enjoy and studied hard to attain. College is an experience that goes beyond your textbooks, as you learn in and out of the classroom. There are many things I could've learned from a book, but that means I would've lost my professors’ perspectives and those of my classmates. College is a collaborative experience where you constantly learn from everyone around you.

What strategies do you use to manage your time between the responsibilities of school, work, friends and family?
I like to plan my week in advance, so I can map out what I need to do and when. Being aware of what is due each week is extremely helpful in that there aren't any surprises that will affect your plans. When surprises do come up, it becomes a matter of prioritizing tasks. If there's something that might not fit into the week, I analyze what can be pushed to next week and what can't. This sort of planning allows you to avoid overbooking yourself and prevents burnout. Another important thing I wish I had started doing earlier is planning self-care days. It's important to plan these out because if you don't allow yourself time to rest and recharge, it becomes difficult to perform your best.

How do you stay informed about events and services that are available on campus?
I follow a lot of NIU's social media accounts, so I see most of the events posted on there. I also look at the board in front of Starbucks when I'm in the student center.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
To relax and recharge I listen to a lot of music and work out. Music is amazing in that each song is a story the artist is trying to tell you. Focusing on the world they are painting helps relieve any stress I might have. Working out is also really important because it helps me feel strong and energized.  Whenever I don't work out, I start to feel sluggish, and making it through the day gets really hard. I like to spend time with friends and family, as well. Being in school has made it hard to spend time with them, so when I can, it feels good to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Having a strong support system makes attending school while juggling other activities a lot more bearable, as they are there to cheer you on and help when they can. There is no better way to recharge than being with people you love who support your dreams.

Please tell us about your job and hobbies.
I work as a patient care technician at a hospital in my hometown, which has solidified my desire to pursue a career in medicine. I have had the pleasure of working alongside health care workers from all over the country and in different fields. They have taught me so much about being a good health care worker. Every time I clock into work, I learn something new, whether it’s about a new health condition or a new way to improve how I interact with others. When there is time, I enjoy baking and being out in nature. I enjoy hiking with friends and painting in the park when the weather is nice. 

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