Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cuyamaca College alum Jesus Banderas: From high school dropout to plant biologist

It wasn’t too long ago that Jesus Banderas saw school as something of a nuisance. Which is why he dropped out as a 16-year-old high school junior and found full-time work at his father’s landscaping business.

Then he discovered Cuyamaca College. And his life hasn’t been the same since.

“I never really saw myself as college material,” he said. “I was just interested in taking a couple ornamental horticulture classes and picking up some information to help out my dad and his business. It turned out to be the best thing for me.”

That’s because Banderas kept pushing himself to greater heights.

After completing a couple courses in ornamental horticulture, Banderas figured, why not go for a certificate of achievement? After nearing his requirements for a certificate of achievement, Banderas figured, why not go for an associate degree? After nearing his requirements for an associate degree, Banderas thought, why not go for a bachelor’s degree?

The latter meant taking a couple science courses needed to transfer to a University of California campus.

“I was actually pretty scared because I hadn’t taken a science course since middle school, and, in all honesty, I never really showed up to class back then anyway,” Banderas said. “So I signed up for chemistry and biology, and I was mesmerized. Once you start looking at how everything works, you see it’s all rooted in molecular biology. It’s all pretty fascinating how proteins work according to their chemical makeup, how different plants react to different pathogens. It was a whole new world for me.”

Banderas’ dedication was rewarded by several scholarships, including a $500 Tree Huggers Award in 2012 and the Dr. Samuel M. Ciccati Ornamental Horticulture award in 2013. He was also active on campus and found himself involved with the Cuyamaca College Conservation Science Club.

“Jesus is truly a bright individual who was so interested in learning about the sciences,” said biology professor Laurie LeBlanc. “He was a pleasure to have in class.”

Banderas graduated from Cuyamaca College in the spring of 2013 and left for UC Davis, where he earned a bachelor’s in plant biology in June. Along the way he engaged in numerous research projects, including a 10-week, residential summer program at the UC Riverside Center for Plant Cell Biology in 2013 and the Summer Scholars Program at Cornell University the following year. Both fed his passion to learn more about plant pathology and plant immunity.

Today, Banderas, 25, is working for Genentech as a bioprocessing manufacturing technician and has thoughts of returning to school for a postgraduate degree.

“It’s definitely been an interesting journey,” said Banderas. “Every step of the way I’ve stopped and reflected at where I was and where I had come from and how I got there. I never thought I could ever go to college, but now here I am, a graduate of UC Davis. But I really wouldn’t have gotten here had it not been for Cuyamaca College. If Cuyamaca didn’t have that horticulture program, I probably would never have gone to college.”

“Jesus is destined for some great things in the future," LaBlanc said. "His story serves as an inspiration to so many others who may have lacked confidence in themselves or doubted their ability to flourish.”