Valerie Perea: Living Faith and Science
As Valerie Perea ’14 begins her doctorate program this fall at The Scripps Research Institute, she’ll take many things with her -- her bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and Spanish, her recent lab work studying sugar as a drug delivery system, her experience as a high school senior competing at the international science fair, but most importantly, her faith.
“I think when you are a person of faith in science, you have more creativity,” Perea says. “You see things happening with a purpose and you understand this didn’t ‘just happen.’ That’s the thing I’m most glad I took from Pius, my faith experience.”
Knowing she’s a person of faith, fellow students seek her out at times “People ask me about it in my labs, I’ve even taken them to church,” she says. She has stayed connected to her faith and to service by teaching catechism at St. Joseph of the Rio Grande parish with her mother, St. Pius math teacher Diana Perea. She also has continued the ideas of community service instilled at SPX by serving as a mentor to women at the University of New Mexico navigating the college experience.
At St. Pius X High School, Perea was an instrumental member of the senior retreat team and qualified for the international science fair with a joint project on the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. Also a talented artist and musician, she sang the National Anthem to start St. Pius athletic events and earned the SPX Fine Arts department’s Renaissance Award.
Perea appreciates the impact of SPX science teachers Debora Green and Rebecca Jiron and their passion for science and for asking better questions. She also credits the influence of social studies teacher Dan Cappleman. “He demanded that we have respect for each other, for the subject and for the classroom; he carries himself in a way I admire,” she says.
Perea began her undergraduate years at UNM as a pre-med major, but a literal change in path changed her career path. A construction project in one building moved her lab class into another and placed her near the office of UNM’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, a pre-Ph.D. program. The program offers financial support, scientific education, and mentoring to prepare students for graduate school in STEM-related fields.
The staff there introduced her to the program and talked to her about pursuing a doctorate. The idea took hold. “It was a hard decision because I was really changing my course from med school,” she says. “I decided (by realizing) that I got frustrated with the idea of being able to prescribe (as a doctor) but not being able to work on causes and cures for disease.”
Last summer Perea took part in a program for undergrads at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., studying circadian biology and how disrupting the sleep cycle could cause disease. At the 2018 UNM Department of Biology Annual Research Day, Perea received an honorable mention award for her oral presentation on that work titled “Identifying Substrates of Circadian Clock Regulated CRY1 or CRY2 Dependent SCF-FBXL3 Mediated Degradation.”