The freshest news and views from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District
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
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
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.”