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Manuel Larach wants to build molecules — the kind that might cure a disease, or revolutionize medicine. The UC Davis student, who is about to complete his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, now has his eye on an advanced degree. For him, this is uncharted territory.“There aren’t that many Latinos in grad school, especially in the science fields,” Larach said. He will be the first in his family to attend graduate school — a challenge he said he relishes, though he anticipates needing help to navigate the often Byzantine world of graduate school preparations.
Fortunately for Larach and students like him, there is UC LEADS (Leadership Excellence Through Advanced Degrees). The program identifies promising upper division undergraduates and pairs them with faculty mentors, who provide a window into the research life and preparation for the rigor and rewards of grad school.
Larach and about 80 other similarly driven students converged at UC Santa Barbara’s Corwin Pavilion Saturday, March 10, for the 18th Annual UC LEADS Research and Leadership Symposium. The event was an opportunity for the students — who hailed from across the entire UC system — to share their research, brush up on their presentation skills and build a network.
“These are all students who faced barriers to educational attainment at an earlier point in life and who have overcome those barriers and have committed themselves to science,” said Carol Genetti, UCSB Graduate Division dean and chair of the UC LEADS systemwide steering committee. “For many this is their first opportunity to step into the professional world. It’s quite inspiring!”
The highlight of the academic year for the program’s participants, the symposium represents months, if not years, of research conducted by the undergrads with the guidance of a faculty advisor and grad student mentors. The topics presented at the event spanned a wide range of disciplines, as the students discussed …

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