Photo of Santiana Marrujo

Santiana Marrujo works in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory at Highlands University. Photo: Rick Loffredo/University Relations

Las Vegas, N.M. – Santiana Marrujo, a New Mexico Highlands University chemistry graduate, chose Notre Dame for her doctoral studies and received the prestigious Arthur J. Schmitt Leadership Fellow in Science and Engineering from the university.

Marrujo, a 23-year-old from Mora, New Mexico, graduated from Highlands magna cum laude in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She was accepted to eight chemistry doctoral programs across the country.

“I chose Notre Dame because I really like the drug discovery program,” Marrujo said. “In the medicinal chemistry program, I’ll have the opportunity to design and test new drugs. There are many interesting research possibilities at Notre Dame. For instance, they are conducting drug research for antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA as well as research for Alzheimer’s.”

Marrujo, a single mother to a 6-year-old son, Luciano, said her Catholic faith also influenced her to choose Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

“I felt like I could be myself here at Notre Dame because it’s a Catholic school. It was also very important to me that Luciano will be going to a Catholic school that Notre Dame collaborates with just north of campus. He’ll be starting first grade soon,” Marrujo said.

Marrujo received a full ride for her doctoral studies at Notre Dame. In addition, the Arthur J. Schmitt Leadership fellowship provides more financial support.

“This fellowship will allow me to spend more time in research laboratories, which is super exciting because that’s my passion. I will go through different laboratory rotations at Notre Dame, which will help me determine the specific research I want to pursue,” Marrujo said.

Marrujo said she fell in love with chemistry when she took her first general chemistry class at Highlands from organic chemistry professor Jan Shepherd. Marrujo also worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Shepherd’s laboratory, where she had the opportunity to conduct hands-on chemical synthesis research.

“Dr. Shepherd inspired me to pursue chemistry because he has such enthusiasm for the subject and saw my potential, which made me believe in myself,” Marrujo said.

Marrujo said she’s thankful that Highlands gave her the knowledge she needed to be competitive enough to be accepted to Notre Dame and seven other chemistry Ph.D. programs. Many science programs bypass a master’s degree in favor of a doctoral course of study – the case for Marrujo.

“The chemistry faculty at Highlands was highly supportive of my academic goals. I wouldn’t be at Notre Dame without the strong support I also got from my family and programs at Highlands like ARMAS, the Achieving in Research, Math and Science Center,” Marrujo said.

“Santiana ranks within the top 2 percent of several thousand chemistry majors I’ve taught over the last 39 years,” Shepherd said. “She’s extremely intelligent and highly focused.”

Shepherd said Marrujo is exceptionally good at running research projects with minimal input, figuring things out on her own.

“Santiana constantly moves things forward with great purpose, and I expect her to do well at Notre Dame,” Shepherd said.

Marrujo said coming from a small town and attending Notre Dame for her doctoral studies is like a dream come true.

“It’s exhilarating to begin this new chapter of my life,” Marrujo said.