By Ashley Neckel, Sept. 28, 2021

From a sea of applicants for the CSU Board of Trustees’ Awards for Outstanding Achievement, Firozeh Farahmand, a Cal Poly Pomona biological sciences master’s student, was recognized as an outstanding STEM student, earning the Trustee Emeritus Kenneth Fong scholarship.

Every year, the merit-based CSU Trustees’ awards are granted to one student from each of the 23 campuses across the California State University system with awards ranging from $6,000 to $15,000.

It comes as no surprise that Farahmand earned the prestigious award. Prior to finding her passion, Farahmand pursued pre-med before conducting undergraduate research in the Biological Science Department’s Steele Lab studying the effects of dopamine neurons responsible for weight gain on a high fat diet and testing whether those neurons are responsible with increased day eating. Farahmand’s positive experience in the research lab ultimately led to her changing career paths.

“After high school I had worked at a Kaiser hospital all summer,” recalled Farahmand. “At the end of the day, I did enjoy helping people; I just found more interest in the details, like in medicine and cell physiology and all of that rather than the holistic view of it.”

As the daughter of immigrants from Yuron, India, Farahmand expressed gratitude toward her parents for their efforts as well as for introducing her to the sciences so young.

“When I was in fifth grade, my mom got her master’s in chemistry so I would go in the lab with her and just sit in the corner and watch … That’s where I found out I wanted to do science.”

Farahmand struggled in the beginning of her undergraduate career with difficult courses, but she persisted.

“When I was a freshman, I was told if you get anything lower than a B in, like, general biology, then change majors,” Farahmand said. “I got a C in my first general biology class at the time, and it was very discouraging.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology from CPP in 2020, Farahmand is now planning to earn her master’s degree this spring and is currently in the process of applying to doctoral programs for neuroscience. Farahmand is still working in the Steele Lab as a teaching associate with hopes of becoming a university professor.

Farahmand sports her Greek Council sash for her 2020 graduation (Courtesy of Firozeh Farahmand)

In academia, Farahmand is passionate about changing the system to terminate “weeder” courses in STEM, or entry-level courses with high dropout rates aimed to reduce the number of students in high-demand majors.

“It’s like it’s expected that a certain percentage of students fail, and I think we need to get rid of that idea and let them know, ‘You’re here and you got accepted to this university for a reason,’” said Farahmand. “You can 100% achieve your goals.”

For students hoping to achieve their own goals, Farahmand offered some advice.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t really have a passion or enjoyment for what you’re doing, it’s very difficult to succeed in it.”

Applications for the 2022 CSU Board of Trustees’ Award will be available on CPP’s Financial Aid and Scholarships page with instructions posted early spring. To be considered, students must display academic excellence, personal achievements, community service and financial need. After students apply, each CSU campus evaluates and nominates applicants to the CSU Foundation. Final consideration is made by the Awards Selection Committee.

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