MariaElena Zavala to present 2020 mentoring keynote

MariaElena Zavala

MariaElena Zavala

MariaElena Zavala, professor of biology at California State University, Northridge, has been invited to present the 2020 Mentoring Keynote at Cell Bio Virtual 2020–An Online ASCB|EMBO Meeting. The title of her talk will be “Changing the Face of Science.” The talk will premiere on December 2 from 11:45–12:30 ET.

Zavala said she was very excited to be asked to present the ASCB Mentoring Keynote.

“Very excited actually, I was floored!” she said. “I learned that I was being nominated after someone asked me for some information about me. I had to ask why this was needed. Having served on the selection committee in the past I knew that the competition for this honor is fierce. In reality, I was honored to learn that I had been nominated and being selected was icing on the cake.”

As a mentor, Zavala said a goal of hers is to try to determine what types of interventions or opportunities are effective in broadening participation in science careers. Mentors have been critical to her success, she added.

“My path to the degree and beyond has been smoothed and paved by mentors,” Zavala said. “I aspire to serve science and the community of marginalized and minoritized people by preparing them to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to address the ‘hard’ questions in science. I have mentored hundreds of students, and it is a thrill when our former students achieve their professional goals!”

In her research as a plant biologist, Zavala is looking for ways to produce plants with improved nutritional qualities and produce plants that require fewer inputs.

“I use plants to probe basic questions in plant development,” Zavala said. “My contributions in that field of research include the first localization of a plant hormone in situ. I have worked to develop systems to improve plant nutrition and plant productivity.”

Zavala earned an AB from Pomona College and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed her postdoctoral training at Indiana University and Yale University.

She recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and is a Fellow of ASCB, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society of Plant Biologists. She has also been co-lead PI for the National Science Foundation Hispanic Serving Institution STEM Resource Hub, as well as co-PI for a National Institutes of Health Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training grant.

“I am the first Chicana [American of Mexican descent] to have earned a PhD in my field from UC Berkeley and someone told me that I am the first Chicana PhD in my field nationally,” Zavala noted. “I am the first member of my family to earn an undergraduate degree and a PhD. I was the first female president of Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.”

In her free time, Zavala said she enjoys cooking and reading murder mysteries.

About the Author:


Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.