Alumni Success – Fernanda Sulantay Vargas ’17 Rises From ESL to Ph.D. Candidate at Yale

MANCHESTER, Conn.  (September 8, 2021) – MCC Honors College alumna Fernanda Sulantay Vargas ’17, of East Windsor, thinks back on the days she spent in the college library improving her language skills.

Fernanda Sulantay Vargas ’17 at MCC Commencement – Ann Montgomery photo

The native of El Salvador came to the United States speaking little English. “I first took English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to help me, but after that I would pick up children’s books to read. Reading children’s literature helped me a lot,” said Sulantay Vargas. Today after transferring to the University of Connecticut and, in turn, graduating magna cum laude from that institution in May 2020,she is a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University.

She is studying chemical engineering with the support of a Graduate Education for Minorities (GEM) fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships in the U.S.

“My research is about understanding how shear stress (which is a force) affects crystallization of colloids,” Sulantay Vargas explained. “A colloid is a mixture of one substance spread out consistently inside another substance. Crystallization is a very complicated process, divided into two regimes: nucleation and growth. I focus on studying the nucleation part of the process.”

The experience at MCC provided a strong foundation for the work she is now doing. In addition to the Honors College program, she joined the MCC chapters of the Phi Theta Kappa and Epsilon Pi Tau honor societies, and a major opportunity presented itself to participate in a unique summer internship at Princeton as a research assistant in Molecular Biophysics in the Molecular Biophysics Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.

Sulantay Vargas credits Professor Negussie Tirfessa for introducing her to the Princeton opportunity, connecting her to the representative from the program and writing her a letter of support. She was also supported by Paul Edelen, and Jean Wynn, now MCC professors emeriti.

“The internship offered non-Princeton undergrads research experience in the mathematical and engineering field at their college,” she said. “It helped me develop my research skills along with a network of professionals in the field.”

Sulantay Vargas benefitted from her internship experience at Princeton so much that she is now participating in another, on top of her Ph.D. studies. “I’m currently doing an internship this summer as a chemical engineer and data scientists at Lam Research,” she said.

California-based Lam Research is a global company that offers unique educational opportunities for members of the GEM fellowship consortium. As a 2021 GEM fellowship winner, Sulantay Vargas is being sponsored by Lam Research. They also offered her the opportunity to intern at the company to get started on the right career path while working closely with some of the most talented people in the industry.

She is also serving as co-chair of Yale’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion graduate committee in the Environmental and Chemical Department.

Sulantay Vargas hopes her experience will be an inspiration to incoming students and anyone considering MCC.

“I’m very grateful for my time at MCC. I was able to save money, create connections that up until this day are helpful, and to learn the necessary skills to succeed in my academic career,” she said. “The Honors College and the faculty support I received helped me find opportunities that have been pivotal for me and helped me become the person I am today. I couldn’t have done it without the helping hands I received there.”