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Back in the lab: an unexpected path led Angela Rodriguez Hinojosa ’24 to organic chemistry

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Angela Rodriguez Hinojosa ’24 is a chemistry major who plans to attend graduate school following Spring Commencement. (Photo by Sy Bean/PLU)

Image: Angela Rodriguez Hinojosa ’24 is a chemistry major who plans to attend graduate school following Spring Commencement. (Photo by Sy Bean/PLU)

March 7, 2024
By Emily Holt, MFA '16
PLU Marketing & Communications Guest Writer

“It’s like clicking Legos together,” she says. Except that the Legos are chemical compounds contained in an 1H NMR tube.
Chemistry major Angela Rodriguez Hinojosa ’24 lights up when talking about her role in the Murdock Trust-funded research on RNA detection. A collaboration between faculty and students at Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle Pacific University, and Northwest University, the interdisciplinary project aims to fill the gaps in what we know about RNA and its function.

Under the direction of chemistry professor Neal Yakelis, Angela has been working to develop an organic compound that can better visualize and track RNA in a biological sample. It’s graduate-level research—and for Angela, comes after taking just one year of organic chemistry.

Though Angela’s path has been less traditional, she’s realized it’s not something to be embarrassed about, but to embrace and celebrate.

In 2020, when struggles in her personal life began to affect school, Angela’s advisor, chemistry professor Justin Lytle, suggested that she take some time away. Initially she was discouraged, worried that if she stepped away from school she might not return.

“But I kind of pulled myself out of that hole,” Angela says, “and just pushed myself to finish prerequisites through Pierce College.”

When she returned to PLU last year, heading straight into organic chemistry with Yakelis, she was undaunted.

“I told myself, ‘If I can do O-chem, I can do anything,’” Angela says. “And I did it.”

Now, she’s weighing graduate school options and building her network with connections to researchers at Reed College.

Angela’s tenacity comes, in part, from her identity as a first-generation Latina student and her upbringing. “I just want to show my family that their sacrifice was worth it all,” she says, “because I can do more and give back that love and support that they’ve given me unconditionally.”

She’s also grateful for the support of the tight-knit community at PLU. As a Franklin Pierce High School student taking classes at PLU, she felt a sense of belonging even before starting college—but she hadn’t realized that the university was also a place where a student can have one-on-one time with a professor and admit that they’re struggling.

Lytle says he’s proud to see her progress and the careers in organic chemistry now open to her.

Whatever Angela chooses, her experiences have given her a perspective that will carry her far.

“Everybody has their own time and their own opportunities,” she says. “And it’s not about comparing yourself to others. It’s about focusing on yourself and asking, ‘How far can I go?’”