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Doreen Cabrera: A Legacy of Science and Outreach

I took my first formal biology course as a freshman in high school. The teacher was from Guatemala, so she’s Latina. And I’m Latina. To have a role model who was also Latina was very inspiring.
Doreen Cabrera
A woman in a gray sweater reaches for a yellow-green container on a wire shelf.
Cabrera works with crayfish she catches in Utah waters. She studys how a crayfish’s individual personality affects its population and ecosystem.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Doreen Cabrera’s (BIO ‘23) passion for science goes back as long as she can remember. But her Latina biology teacher helped Cabrera look to the future and actually see herself as a scientist. After that freshman class, she felt confident taking advanced science classes in high school and in college at California State University, Long Beach, where she discovered her niche in animal behavior. Working in an ecology professor’s lab provided kindling for Cabrera’s passion for research.

A teacher talks with four students as they dissect a pig. The teacher is standing, and the students sit at a black table.
Cabrera and her classmates dissect a pig with the help of the biology teacher who inspired Cabrera.

“I really like the fact that you can leave a legacy [through research],” Cabrera reflects. “Maybe not everyone will read it, but someone will find your work useful. Even if it’s something super tiny, it’s going to make a world of difference because it’s just going to be added on to in the future.”

Her research certainly is making an impact—one of her papers on the development of animal personality has been cited nearly forty times in other publications.

The legacy Cabrera is leaving behind isn’t limited to her research. She also makes a point of reaching out to and mentoring other students in the sciences, particularly women and minority students. She gets excited to meet students similar to herself and jumps at the opportunity to help them achieve their goals. Cabrera wants these students to know, “This is what you can do, and this is what I went through, and this is how I can serve you. This is how I can help you.”

When Cabrera heard about a student from Mexico who wanted to study marine biology, she requested to be paired with the student as her mentor. “I could connect with her on the cultural level,” Cabrera explains. The two conducted research together, co-authoring a few papers Cabrera is working to publish. They still stay in touch, and Cabrera offers her support and encouragement.

A woman in a brown sweater folders her arms and smiles. She stands in a lab with blue shelves that hold clear and yellow containers.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Cabrera also mentored a high school student who expressed interest in marine biology. “I had him dissecting crayfish and reading papers with me,” she says. The research they did resulted in a published paper. “As a high school student, he got on a publication, and that’s amazing.”

Just as Cabrera’s Latina biology teacher impacted her, Cabrera is leaving an impact on the world through her legacy of research and inspiring students.