Yazmin Estrada

From Mathematics to Biopharmaceutical Processing

CLAREMONT, Calif. – The typical student in the Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing (MEng) program at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) has earned an undergraduate degree in either science or engineering. But Yazmin Estrada, MEng ’20, is showing that success in the MEng program is also possible for someone with a different academic background.

When Estrada graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from California State University, San Bernardino, she was unaware of biopharmaceutical processing as a career option. The first in her family to attend college or even to complete high school, Estrada only knew that she didn’t want to teach math. Realizing that she enjoyed solving puzzles and problems and had a desire to make an impact on a larger community, she gravitated toward engineering. Then Estrada learned about KGI’s MEng program.

“KGI got me interested in the biopharmaceutical industry,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how much exposure to industry KGI students had or how much they were able to do.”

The Team Master’s Project (TMP) especially appealed to her. As an MEng student, Estrada has already completed two TMPs, for Repligen and Sutro Biopharma, as well as a summer internship with Boehringer Ingelheim that helped strengthen her analytical, process development, and teamwork skills.

“Both of the TMPs were lab-focused,” notes Estrada. “Going from a non-science background made this more difficult, but I’m a hands-on learner.”

Estrada, who gives credit to KGI’s Dean of Students Cynthia Martinez for providing support that helped her overcome challenges in her first year of the MEng program, now wants to work in an engineering position in an industry lab after graduation.

She is setting her long-term sights even higher: Estrada hopes to eventually hold an executive position in the biopharmaceuticals industry.

“What is encouraging from her story is the transformation from a mathematician into a bioprocessing engineer,” says KGI Professor of Bioprocessing Hu Zhang. “She spent a lot of time in the lab last year, catching up, and is very good with technique and very confident now.”

Estrada is currently part of a team of KGI students working with him on an independent research project related to stem cell therapies and incorporating use of 3D printing technology.

“She is motivated to learn,” says Zhang. “That’s why she wanted to jump into this research.”

Estrada is also motivated to encourage other young Latinas like herself to consider careers in bioprocessing and the biopharmaceutical industry. She hopes to return to her undergraduate university to talk to these students about the MEng program and the rewards of her newly chosen field.

“You’re able to contribute to making therapeutics to drugs,” explains Estrada. “Even if you’re not seeing the drug administered to patients, you can say you were a piece of the puzzle.”